The volume of retail sales fell by 3.7% in December 2021 but remains 2.6% higher than pre-pandemic levels, data from the Office for National Statistics shows.

It is the largest monthly fall in sales since January 2021, when sales fell by 8.3%, and follows 1% growth in November 2021.

In non-food stores, sales fell by 7.1% in December 2021 because of falls in each of the category's subsectors, including clothing stores (8%), department stores (6.3%) and other non-food stores (8.9%).

The figures come after the British Retail Consortium (BRC) said its research found retail footfall had fallen by 18.6% in December 2021 compared to the same period in 2019.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the BRC, remained optimistic:

"The spread of Omicron may have slowed Christmas spending, but the perseverance of retailers helped deliver a successful Christmas for consumers."

She warned, however, of rising costs:

"Rising inflation is reducing consumer demand while increasing the costs for businesses. Retailers face rising wage bills, increased transport costs, and increased checks and documentation as a result of new import controls, all of which are forcing up prices at the checkout."

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