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UK retail sales’ sluggish new year start as cash-strapped Brits go online to nab deals

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UK retail sales remained muted in January following December’s fall, with fuel sales spiking and prices continuing to plummet.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) released the figures which showed retail sales volumes increased by just half a per cent last month.

This comes after it dipped by 1.2 per cent in December, despite the annual festive shopping rush.

Earlier in the week, it was reported that UK inflation had dropped for the third straight month in a row, as Britain swerved a technical recession – though fears it may still fall into one have no disappeared.

Despite being 0.5 per cent up on December, volumes were  still 1.4 per cent down on pre-Covid levels, and 0.9 per cent down in the three months to January overall. Compared to the previous year however, they fell by 5.7 per cent.

The cost of living crisis and energy crisis has continued to weigh down consumer confidence, as millions of Brits tighten their belts and save, instead of spending.

Meanwhile, real pay was revealed to be falling at one of the fastest paces ever this week.

The figures show that food store sales volumes fell by 0.5 per cent in January, building on a drop of 0.7 per cent in the previous month.

The ONS said it continues “to receive feedback that customers were buying less because of increased cost of living and food prices.”

Online retail as the key winner with ’non-store retail’ sales volumes up 2 per cent, after promotions helped consumers get deals.

However, the proportion of retail sales online fell by a significant 25 per cent in January, while remaining significantly above pre-pandemic levels.

Brits did still hit the high street however, with non-food store sales up 0.6 per cent, falling a fall of 2.5 per cent in December. This was attributed to sales promotions, but the ONS reports sales volumes overall were still nearly three per cent down on before Covid-levels.

As the world looks to mark a year since the deadly invasion of Ukraine by Russia, which disrupted the energy market, automotive fuel sales volumes rose by 1.7 per cent.

The spike in fuel sales comes despite prices continuing to fall at the pump, helping to ease the burden on motorists, and its impact on inflation.

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