Omicron fears hit December retail sales – ONS

Consumer concerns over the spread of the Omicron strain impacted on retail sales during December as the buoyant early Christmas shopping figures of November fell by 3.7% the following month.

Heather Bovill, deputy director for surveys at the ONS, said: “After strong pre-Christmas trading in November, retail sales fell across the board in December, with feedback from retailers suggesting Omicron impacted on footfall. As Plan B restrictions in England meant more people working from home, there was a notable fall for fuel sales.”

Although the upcoming lifting of Plan B measures is seen as a positive for retailers – particularly those who rely on customers to return to their workplaces rather than working from home – the outlook for this year remains challenging for the sector with a number of difficulties on the horizon.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, said: “Customers face strong headwinds in 2022, with energy prices and National Insurance contributions both set to rise. The remaining disposable income also faces greater competition from a resurgence in tourism, eating out, sport and live music. Rising inflation is reducing consumer demand while increasing the costs for businesses.

“Retailers face rising wage bills, increased transport costs, and increased checks and documentation as a result of new import controls, all of which are forcing up prices at the checkout.”

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