Retail sales growth accelerated at its fastest pace for almost 26 years according to the CBI’s latest monthly Distributive Trades Survey, which covers the crucial run-up to Christmas.
The survey of 122 firms covers the fortnight ending 11 December and includes the sales-boosting effects of Black Friday. Though sales are expected to rise more slowly in the year to January, robust growth is still anticipated resulting in the strongest growth in orders placed with suppliers for a year.
Grocers saw the strongest year-on-year sales growth of any part of retailing, recording the best figure for two and a half years. Furniture & Carpets and the Other Normal Goods sector (the category that includes jewellery, watches and flowers) were the other best performers.
After surging in November, internet sales growth slowed somewhat in the year to December, though it remained above average.
CBI distributive trades survey chairman and Asda chief merchandising officer for food Barry Williams said: "The strongest sales growth for a quarter of a century is a big boost for retailers as they head towards the climax of the crucial pre-Christmas trading period.
"Black Friday price-cuts, embraced more widely by more UK retailers than ever, and discounting played an important part in helping sales, encouraging more customers into stores and online to buy more widely.
"But, shoppers may have caught the Christmas bug early and brought some of their spending forward. This has been a tough year for many retailers and parts of the sector are still struggling. Increasing disposable income from real wages growth, and falling fuel prices are giving retailers reasons for optimism but we’ll need to see in the New Year whether the upbeat mood takes hold."
Some 71 per cent of respondents reported sales volumes up on a year ago, while nine per cent said they were down, giving a rounded balance of +61 per cent, well above the +38 per cent that had been expected and the highest balance since January 1988 (+67 per cent).
Grocers reported the fastest year-on-year growth in sales volumes of any retail sub-sector, with 83 per cent saying sales were up, and none saying they were down, the highest since June 2012 (+85 per cent).
Other Normal Goods (which includes watches, jewellery, flowers and plants) was the second fastest growing sub-sector (+79 per cent).