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Online sales rose in December, compared to the previous year, but fell compared to the previous month:ONS

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The Christmas online shopping peak happened earlier this year, thanks to the increasing popularity of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, ONS figures suggest. Up until last year, Cyber Monday was regarded as the biggest pre-Christmas day for online sales, as shoppers bought far enough ahead to ensure timely delivery.

But in 2014, Black Friday was the biggest single spending day of the year as shoppers were attracted by deep discounting, and November 27 2015 was again the biggest day of the year. Indeed, it seems that more spending took place in November as retailers planned week-long discount events running up to Black Friday.

Online sales rose by 8.2% in value to £837.2m in December, compared to the same month in the previous year. But they fell by 5.2% compared to November 2015, according to the ONS Retail Sales report for December 2015, out today. Some 12.8% of retail spending took place online in December, up from 11.8% in December 2014.

While total UK retail sales of £44.8bn in December 2015 were higher by volume by 2.6% compared to December 2014, they were 1% lower in value. Compared to the previous month of November 2015, they fell both in value and in volume.

ONS figures suggested the Black Friday and Cyber Monday effect was particularly felt by department stores. In November 2014, the year-on-year value of sales was up by 14% compared to the previous year, but in December 2014, they were up by 0.3%. Between November and December 2014, retail sales fell by 4.3% in value.

But in 2015, department store retail sales grew more strongly in both November and December. The value of sales in November 2015 rose by 4.5% on the same month a year earlier, and in December the value of sales was 10.3% up on a year earlier but up by 1% compared to November 2015.

“We have seen a slightly different spending pattern in department stores in 2015 where higher year-on-year growth has been reported in December 2015 compared with December 2014,” said the ONS report. “This suggests that the pattern of spending has changed between 2014 and 2015 as department stores moved from a one-day ‘Black Friday’ event to week-long events including ‘Cyber Monday’ and therefore spending was more spread out over the two months.”

Online alone, department store sales rose by 27.1% on last year, and accounted for 11.9% of all retail spending in the sector. Household goods stores also saw fast online growth in December – up by 33.1% – and accounting for 9.2% of retail sales. Textile, clothing and footwear store sales rose by 10.3% online, accounting for 13.6% of all sales.

Commenting on the figures, Keith Richardson, global corporates managing director for retail at Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking, said:

“Even after a year in which the underlying picture for consumers was brighter than it has been for years, Britain’s post-recession savvy shoppers were in no mood to spend more on Christmas if they didn’t need to.

“The exceptionally mild and wet weather not only hit fashion retailers who have been unable to shift their winter ranges, but also kept shoppers away from the high street, forcing even more of them to do their shopping online at home.

“But just like self-service in the 1960s and large out-of-town stores in the 1980s, online is becoming the new normal in retail. In the short term, this could heap further pressure on high street retailers already bracing themselves for strong headwinds during 2016, including rising wages and business rates and a new apprenticeship levy.

“Elsewhere, Black Friday once again failed to create any significant additional spend, and appears to simply bring shoppers’ Christmas shopping forward, spreading it out over a longer period and diluting December’s sales.

“While there were also some examples of shoppers being prepared to spend a little more on big ticket items such as furniture, post-recession consumers no longer buy things simply because they can. In the words of Ikea’s Steve Howard, maybe we really have hit ‘peak stuff’.”

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