UK retailers enjoy Christmas but face tough 2012

January 10, 2012 - 7:16 PM

LONDON (AP) — Mild weather and pre-Christmas discounting helped Britain's retailers survive the holiday season but customers are not likely to keep shopping at the same pace, figures released Tuesday show.

The British Retail Consortium and KPMG said like-for-like sales in December 2011 in Britain were 2.2 percent higher than the same month in 2010, when heavy snow deterred many holiday shoppers.

But Stephen Robertson, the British Retail Consortium's director, said that December sales had been driven by heavy discounting that had drawn customers into stores but would not boost retailers' margins.

"A solid December result hasn't rescued a pretty miserable year," he said. "Whole-year figures show minimal growth in 2011."

Robertson said Britain's overall economy remains weak and customers are unlikely to spend heavily in 2012.

Winter trading figures from home furnishings, clothes and food retailer Marks & Spencer and department store Debenhams reflected the uneven performance of British high street stores.

Marks & Spencer said overall like for like sales in the 13 weeks to Dec. 31 were flat at 0.5 percent. Food sales rose 3 percent but sales of clothes and household items fell 1.8 percent, hit by the company's decision to stop selling technology products.

The company warned that trading conditions remained challenging. Shares closed up 3 percent at 317.7 pence ($4.92).

Department store Debenhams also said said like-for-like sales in the 18 weeks to 7 January rose, by 1.4 percent compared with last year, and said it expected consumer confidence to remain flat in 2012. Shares jumped 10.8 percent to 62 pence.