Oxford Street
UK shoppers splashed out over the Christmas periodGetty Images

UK retailers capped a strong year as shoppers splashed out during the festive period but high street stores continued to feel the pinch, figures released on 11 January showed.

According to data published by payments group Visa Europe, overall spend increased 2.3% year-on-year in December, driven higher by a 7.4% gain in online spend, while high street sales edged 0.1% lower compared with the same period in 2014.

Despite the decline in high street takings, the figures confirmed 2015 as the second-best year for consumer spending since 2008, although total spend declined from 2.5% in 2014 to 2.3% in the last 12 months.

A number of retailers, including Marks & Spencer, Next and Sports Direct have blamed unusually warm weather and a challenging retail environment on the high street for a string of disappointing quarterly results.

On 7 January, Marks & Spencer revealed sales in its fashion division during the Christmas quarter fell 5.7% year-on-year, while on 8 January Sports Direct issued a profit warning, indicating it was unlikely to meet its target of earning £420m (€564m, $614m) before tax and other costs in the 12 months to the end of April.

Visa attributed the poor performances on the high street to a new pattern of shopping habits emerging among customers, who are now increasingly likely to shop online, thanks in no small part to heavily-promoted events such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

"Despite concerns about Black Friday limiting growth in December, consumer spending rose solidly last month as retailers benefited from the traditional spending surges in the days just before and after Christmas," said Kevin Jenkins, managing director at Visa UK & Ireland.

"Evidence also suggests people were spending more online closer to Christmas, perhaps as a result of shorter delivery time and click & collect options. In contrast, high street spend remained broadly flat."

Meanwhile, MasterCard, one of Visa's main competitors, said spending climbed 2.2% year-on-year in 2015 and 2.1% in the nine weeks to Christmas, while post-Christmas sales rose 3.1% as shoppers sought to make the most of the post-festive season sales.