January’s heavy snowfall saw British retailers suffer a surprise fall in sales, after many small grocers were forced to shut up shop during the freezing weather.
The British Office for National Statistics said retail sales volumes fell 0.6% between December and January, driven by the biggest month-on -month fall in food volumes since May 2011.
Small shops, such as convenience stores and high street butchers and bakers, were hit the hardest, with sales falling 14.9% year-on-year, but online shopping services are thought to have helped the large supermarket chains record a rise of 0.3%.
The figures dashed City expectations of a 0.5% rise in volumes after the closely-watched British Retail Consortium’s figures for the first two weeks of January showed like-for-like sales up 3%.
And there was further disappointment over the crucial December trading period after the statistics office revealed a downward-revised fall of 0.3% from 0.1% previously.
The statistics office said sales also fell against a year earlier in January by 0.6%, bringing to a halt the year-on -year growth seen in the sector since August 2011. Food sales fell 1.6% last month and were 2.6% lower year-on -year, according to the statistics office.
The snow is also thought to have hit fuel sales, which were down 2% month-on-month, with retail sales volumes excluding fuel falling 0.5% between December and January.
But the Association of Convenience Stores, which represents 33,500 small food shops, disputed the statistics office findings that suggested many small stores were hit hardest by the snow.
Its public affairs director Shane Brennan said: “Small retailers were open and well stocked throughout the snow-affected period and as is always the case they saw increases in custom as people travelled less to out of town stores.
“The trend is more likely related to the ongoing belt-tightening of consumers linked to the economic conditions and the pressure of competition from the big out of town stores.”
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