Total sales for 2019 were the “worst on record” as the retail sector limped to the end of the year when Black Friday distortions were taken into account.

In the 12 months of 2019, retail sales fell 0.1% across the sector, compared with 1.2% growth in 2018, according to the latest figures from the BRC-KPMG Sales Monitor.

On a total basis for December, sales increased 1.9% year on year, but the BRC said when taking November and December together – “to iron out the Black Friday distortions” – total sales actually declined 0.9% year on year.

On a like-for-like basis, December sales increased 1.7% on 2018 but, again, fell 1.2% with the preceding November and Black Friday dates taken into account.

Over the three months to December, non-food sales declined 3.5% in total and 3.8% like for like, which was well below the 12-month total average growth of 1.4%.

Food sales for the period were flat on a like-for-like basis and saw a 0.7% uptick on a total basis – compared to a 12-month average growth of 1.4%.

Online non-food sales were one of the few bright spots with a 12.8% lift for the month, compared to a 5.8% uptick the previous year. However, that figure was tempered to just 2.6% when the different Black Friday dates were taken into account.

Black Friday overtakes Christmas

BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson said its figures showed Black Friday “overtook” Christmas to become the “biggest shopping week of the year”.

She also said 2019 was the first time since records began that retail sales had seen an “overall decline”, which was reflected in the raft of sector CVAs, shop closures and job losses.

Dickinson said: “2019 was the worst year on record and the first year to show an overall decline in retail sales. This was also reflected in the CVAs, shop closures and job losses that the industry suffered in 2019. Twice the UK faced the prospect of a no-deal Brexit, as well as political instability that concluded in a December general election – further weakening demand for the festive period.

“The industry continues to transform in response to the changing technologies and shopping habits. Black Friday overtook Christmas as the biggest shopping week of the year for non-food items. Retailers also faced challenges as consumers became both more cautious and more conscientious as they went about their Christmas shopping.”

She added that retail success in 2020 hinged largely on the public’s confidence with regards to the UK’s trade negotiations with the EU.

She also called on the government to “reform the broken business rates system”.