UK High Street
BDO said while December sales were down, the week leading to Christmas saw an on-year increase in salesReuters

UK high streets have witnessed a decline in sales for the month of December 2016. This marks the fourth consecutive year of declines in the Christmas month, according to the latest figures from accountancy firm, BDO.

The firm's High Street Sales Tracker (HSST), which surveyed more than 70 retailers with some 10,000 individual stores, revealed that December's like-for-like sales growth was down 0.1%. While this seems marginal, BDO explained that this on-year decline was coming on the heels of a 5.3% decline that was already seen in December 2015, the worst December seen since 2008.

"With such a weak base for December 2015, any further decline can only be seen as a poor result for retailers," Sophie Michael, head of retail and wholesale at BDO said.

The HSST report was, however, not all negative. It said that the December performance was not bad for all sectors. It pointed out that while on-year sales of fashion goods declined 1.07% in December, sales in the lifestyle and homeware sector grew 2.4% and 2.6% respectively.

The picture for online sales was altogether more positive and this segment had seen close to a 20% growth, the report added.

While total sales in December were lower, the week leading to Christmas had seen an on-year improvement, with UK high streets in this week seeing an 11.7% increase in sales. This marked the biggest weekly growth for the whole of 2016 and also the best weekly sales growth since February 2014, the report revealed.

With regards to online sales in this week, BDO said the growth was 51.1%. It noted that this was a figure not beaten since the first week of 2015.

This follows poor quarterly sales recorded recently by British retailer Next. It also follows Marks and Spencer deciding in November 2016 to shut about 60 stores amid profit declines. The latest report is proof of the tough times on the UK high street.

With regards to the future of high street sales, Michael said in a statement, "Coming at a critical juncture, this fourth negative December in succession highlights the magnitude of the challenge that lies ahead for 2017, when consumers will more keenly feel the bite of inflation and a falling pound."