Brisk business for smaller retailers ahead of Christmas helped sales volumes grow at their fastest annual pace since 2004 in December.Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) measured 2.6% growth during December to show an annual increase of 5.3% – easily topping the forecasts of economists.
The performance suggests a bigger contribution to GDP growth from consumer spending in the fourth quarter of 2013, after the sector was credited with driving recovery during the previous three months.
However, it will also raise more concerns about consumer debt levels and the extent to which people are digging into savings.
The surge in business for small stores may have been a result of the storms ahead of Christmas – prompting consumers to shop locally.
Small stores were found by the ONS to have outperformed their bigger rivals, with the amount spent in them increasing by 8.1% against growth of 2.6% for larger stores, compared with December 2012.
The figures follow news of upbeat trading from the likes of Argos, Halfords, Primark and Next over the festive season, though Marks & Spencer and Debenhams struggled.
The extent of their woes was laid bare by the ONS, which measured department store sales volume growth of 11.7% in December – the highest year-on-year growth since January 2000.
The slew of results from major chains suggested retailers who embraced online and high demand for gadgets and cheap fashion enjoyed robust trading.
The ONS said internet sales increased 11.8% by value compared with the same month last year, with average weekly spending online standing at £675.4m.
The statistical body also reported that the 2.6% growth in sales volumes month-on-month equalled the previous high set in February 2010.
The overall amount spent in shops was up 3.6% compared with the same month last year, with food stores improving by 2.2% and non-food stores by 4.4%.