// The 3.7% month-on-month decline in sales volumes comes after a strong November
// The Omicron variant resulted in shoppers staying away
Retail sales have suffered their worst December decline on record, a 3.7% fall month-on-month, as shoppers stayed home due to the Omicron variant, according to ONS.
The sales fall comes after a steady November, with consumers doing their Christmas shopping earlier than previous years.
A fall in demand for petrol and diesel, due to more people working from home under Plan B rules, also contributed to the slump.
It was the biggest December decline on records going back to 1996.
The drop was also the worst for any month since last January when Britain was coming under a tough new lockdown.
It highlighted the pressure on businesses created by the Omicron variant – and restrictions designed to tackle its spread – over the key festive season.
The ONS also found that in December, retail sales did not even reach last year’s festive period, recording a 0.9% year-on-year decline.
“After strong pre-Christmas trading in November, retail sales fell across the board in December, with feedback from retailers suggesting Omicron impacted on footfall,” ONS deputy director for surveys and economic indicators, Heather Bovill said.
The figures showed that fashion stores saw an 8% decline and department stores dropped 6.3% while food store volumes were off by 1%.
Online sales were slightly higher as a proportion of the total, at 26.6%, than they were in November, at 26.3%, according to the ONS.
Retail sales in 2021 were up by 5.1% – a level of growth that has not been higher since 2002.