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Rainy weather and convenience drew shoppers online this Christmas – but overall retail spending remained flat

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Rainy weather and greater convenience tempted more shoppers online to buy this Christmas, retail sales figures out today from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) suggest. Ecommerce enjoyed a double digit sales rise in December – while store sales fell.

Non-food online sales grew by 15.1% in December 2015, compared to the same month in the previous year. That compares well with the previous year, when online sales were up by 7%. Some 19.7% of non-food retail sales took place over the internet – up from 17.3% a year earlier, and equivalent to almost £1 in every £5 being spent online. But while online grew fast, retail sales as a whole grew by just 1% in total, or 0.1% on a like-for-like basis that strips out the effect of store openings and closures. That does, however, represent an improvement on December 2014, when like-for-like retail sales were down by 0.4% on the previous year.

“This was very much an online Christmas, with this channel playing a vital role in driving retail sales in December,” said Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the BRC . She said online was the driver of sales growth, contributing 2.5 percentage points to UK non-food growth, while store sales fell.

Click and collect played a part in that growth, with convenient collection which also encouraged extra footfall into stores, inspiring extra spending.

But, added Dickinson: “The boost from online was not enough to make this a Christmas to remember for most retailers. The three-month rolling total sales across all categories was the weakest for the entire year, with only 0.9% growth, while non-food saw its slowest performance since January 2013.”

David McCorquodale, head of retail at KPMG , suggested that rainy weather had played its part in driving shoppers online. “With 190% of average rainfall in December, many customers chose to login rather than walk in over the festive period,” he said. “There was a marked increase in online shopping this year with that channel producing its highest contribution percentage to non-food sales growth compared to a decline in store growth.”

Commenting on the figures, Rupal Karia, managing director of retail and hospitality, UK and Ireland, Fujitsu, said: “Many consumers now use a number of channels before purchase to research and make decisions regarding a product. Retailers need to provide customers with all of the tools to make a fully-informed decision via seamlessly integrated channels. This year it is imperative that retailers ensure all channels are seamlessly aligned, enabling customers to move freely from one to the other during their shopping experience. The retailers that ensure they are digital from the inside out and create a balanced, efficient offering that caters for all audiences will be the ones who see success as we work to have a prosperous retail environment in 2016.”

Iain Devine, commercial director at digital consultancy Salmon , said: “Mobile and online shopping are no longer just part of the ‘multichannel’ mix but the focus of it. For retailers who saw online success over the period, this is a reflection of ensuring they were prepared with strong online operations for the influx and were ready to make the most of the opportunity.”

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