British retail sales suffered a record drop in December as consumers shunned the high street due to Omicron concerns, having snapped up Christmas purchases the previous month, data showed Friday.
Total sales volumes dropped 3.7 percent last month from November, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said in a statement.
That was the biggest December month-on-month drop since the data series began in 1996, the ONS said.
Sales had risen by one percent in November as some consumers bought early gifts for the festive season amid fears over supply-chain problems.
“After strong pre-Christmas trading in November, retail sales fell across the board in December with feedback from retailers suggesting Omicron impacted on footfall,” noted Heather Bovill, ONS deputy director for surveys and economic indicators.
“As (Covid) restrictions in England meant more people working from home, there was a notable fall for fuel sales,” she said, adding that one quarter of December sales were online.
The ONS added, however, that retail sales are currently 2.6 percent higher than their pre-pandemic level.
“December’s retail story was exactly the tale stores didn’t want told,” said AJ Bell analyst Danni Hewson.
“As concern about Omicron knocked consumer confidence and left high streets eerily empty considering the time of year, the sound of tills ringing grew, if not silent, certainly quiet.”
Consumer confidence was also hit in December as the Bank of England ramped up interest rates for the first time in three years to combat surging inflation.
Official data showed this week that Britain’s inflation rate spiked to a decades-high 5.4 percent in December, stoking fears about a cost-of-living squeeze as wages fail to keep pace.