How the festive fizz fell flat on the High Street

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Christmas shoppers
Christmas shoppers incorporated mobile devices into their High Street browsing. Photo: Dave Thompson/PA Wire

The UK's stores didn't get what they wanted for Christmas.

Once you strip out online, sales in shops actually fell. For the first time since 2008, today's retail figures show that store sales turned negative. The festive fizz turned flat, as the analysts behind today's statistics put it, describing: "A flat end to a flat year."

Here is how the numbers lived down to expectations:

  • Total UK sales were up just 1.5% on last Christmas - far below inflation.
  • But if you strip out online - store sales were actually down 0.3%.
  • Yet online sales were up 17.8%.
  • 23% of those internet sales were via mobile devices such as phones and tablets.

Something unexpected is happening. For years pundits predicted that the internet would be the death of "real world" stores. In the jargon of the trade: clicks would beat bricks.

Yet what we see in these figures is online coming to the rescue of the big High Street stores.

Christmas shoppers
Customers used shops to pick up Christmas presents bought online. Credit: Chris Ison/PA Wire

This Christmas, customers incorporated the digital into every aspect of the shopping experience. Savvy consumers used mobiles and tablets to compare prices, read reviews and to reserve items for later collection from stores.

One clear factor in today's figures was how "click and collect" shaped Christmas spending. This is when people buy online but pick up goods from a shop. It's happening because it skirts around all those nagging uncertainties about deliveries.

Few would have thought that online would be the savour of shops ... but these figures show the internet saved Christmas for many shops.