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December clothing sales reach five-year high

December clothing sales showed their strongest year-on-year growth in more than five years, according to the British Retail Consortium.

UK like-for-like retail sales rose 4.2% across all sectors, compared with December 2008 when sales had dropped 3.3%, as consumer confidence dipped.

Total sales for the period were up 6% against a 1.4% decline in December 2008.

The British Retail Consortium said the influx of cold, snowy weather in December after several unseasonably mild months boosted sales of outerwear, knitwear and warm accessories.

Seasonal discounting also drove growth in fashion with clothing sales showing their best growth since May 2004, although this was also against a decline in December 2008. Footwear continued to perform particularly strongly, with sales growth at its highest level since April 2007.

Menswear outperformed womenswear with coats and suits the top sellers. In womenswear, dresses, occasionwear and tops sold well and sales of leggings and tights increased as the weather turned colder. Kidswear was the strongest performer in clothing, experiencing significant growth on a weak December 2008. 

In footwear, cold weather also boosted sales with women’s boots, weatherproof shoes, wellington and snow boots selling well for men, women and children.

Footwear Sales also brought in customers although discounting levels were lower than last December. Party shoes were good for some retailers and value lines remained strong.

Online and mail order sales in the non-food sector in December were 26.5% higher than a year ago compared with 16.9% in November. Again, cold weather boosted online sales for some retailers when snow prevented customers reaching stores.   

Stephen Robertson, director general of the British Retail Consortium, said: “These are stronger figures than we dared hope for. After a surprisingly muted November, this is the best total sales growth for a December since 2005 and goes well beyond just making up for the sales fall the sector suffered a year ago.” 

He added: “Snow kept people away from the shops for a time but they made up for that in the days just before Christmas and as Sales events began immediately afterwards. But, with customers now reacquainting themselves with concerns about jobs and tax rises there is a risk that a healthy December may be only a temporary respite on the painful road to recovery.” 

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