Data ‘to show retail sales growth’

A clearer picture of how retailers fared over the crucial Christmas trading period is due to emerge when official December figures are released.

The City expects data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) to show retail sales volumes grew by 0.2% between November and December.

There will also be information on internet sales, which have surged as more people own smartphones and tablet computers and use click and collect services.

This has increased the pressure on the high street, where HMV, Jessops and Blockbuster UK have all gone into administration this month.

The British Retail Consortium recently said internet sales were up 18% during last month but that overall it had been an “underwhelming” month for retailers, with overall like-for-like sales edging up just 0.3%.

However, figures from a clutch of high-profile retailers on Thursday showed some pockets of progress, with Primark among those continuing to do well.

Dixons, which owns Currys and PC World, said it sold over one million tablet computers in the UK and Ireland in the 12 weeks to January 5 as it benefited from the demise of rival chain Comet.

Tablets were also in demand at Argos, where a switch in focus from catalogues to online retail helped it post a 2.7% rise in like-for-like sales.

The ONS figures will be closely watched after a lacklustre performance in November, when sales were flat after a shock 0.8% drop in volumes in October.

Howard Archer, chief European and UK economist at IHS Global Insight, is pencilling in a 0.3% sales volume rise. This indicates a 0.5% contraction in the final quarter of 2012, fuelling concerns there was a dip in UK output. He said: “The problem that retailers – and the economy in general – face is that consumers’ purchasing power came under renewed pressure in late 2012 after seeing appreciable improvement over the first three quarters.”