It was the worst Christmas since the depths of the recession with just a handful of categories growing, according to the BRC-KPMG Retail Sales Monitor.
Like-for-like sales decreased 0.7% in December compared to the same period in 2017, when they registered a 0.6% uplift year on year.
Total retail sales were flat during the month compared to a 1.4% increase in December 2017.
BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson said: “Squeezed consumers chose not to splash out this Christmas with retail sales growth stalling for the first time in 28 months.
“The worst December sales performance in 10 years means a challenging start to 2019 for retailers, with business rates set to rise once again this year, and the threat of a no-deal Brexit looming ever larger.
“The retail landscape is changing dramatically in the UK, while the trading environment remains tough. Retailers are facing up this challenge but are having to wrestle with mounting costs from a succession of government policies – from the apprenticeship levy to higher wage costs, to rising business rates.”
Grocery’s total and like-for-like sales were up last month, as consumers indulged during the Christmas period.
IGD strategy and innovation director Jon Woolven said: “Despite the challenges elsewhere in retail, the grocery sector enjoyed a positive December, with an increase in sales on the previous year broadly in line with inflation.
“The desire to indulge over Christmas prevailed once more and seven in ten shoppers said they spent extra on higher-quality food last month.”
Clothing and footwear: down
Fashion retailers saw a slight improvement in sales in December following a disappointing November.
Both childrenswear and womenswear struggled and many retailers resorted to pre-Christmas discounting in an attempt to drive sales.
Footwear saw declines across the board on both a total and like-for-like basis with sales down drastically from last year.
All segments reported a decline, with even festive discounts doing little to drive footfall.
Health and beauty: down
Despite faring better than most categories, health and beauty still reported an overall decline last month. This comes off the back of a boom for beauty, which has been one of the most active categories in recent years following a wealth of innovation and an associated rise in M&A activity.
Beauty products proved more popular in the last-minute shopping before Christmas, where winter health necessities like cold and flu medicines were less in demand due to warmer weather.
Computing was the best performing category in December as demand for mobile phones including iPhone, Samsung and Huawei models was relatively strong.
While sales of tablets and computers were down, sales of accessories including wireless headphones worked to drive growth. Computing was also the best performing category in-store but did not quite bring it out of decline.
While furniture fared better than last year, early discounts softened the impact of Boxing Day sales making for an overall decline as December continued. Given the backdrop of Brexit-related housing market jitters, big ticket’s failure to fly was not a surprise.
Home accessories and textiles: down
December’s like-for-like and total sales for home accessories fell further into decline as it seems there was less demand for extra Christmas decorations.
Some last-minute surges were seen in cooking and dining accessories the weekend before the big day, but it seems consumers favoured spending more on food than the trimmings.
A warmer winter meant house textiles were last on the list for consumers this December, with online sales faring slightly better than in-store.
Household appliances: down
Similar to its in-home counterparts, household appliances sales suffered in December with little demand for either small or large items as Christmas gifts. Unlike most categories both store and online sales were in decline for the month.
Toys and baby equipment: up
The only other non-food categories to see growth last month, toys and baby equipment, saw a rise in like-for-like and total sales across the board. As usual, presents for children were high on consumers’ lists this Christmas, with toy crazes such as hatchimals and unicorns leading the charge.
Other non-food: down
To round off a disappointing year for most categories, other non-food items fared equally poorly.
Jewellery and watches sales were down as consumers favoured experiential gifts.
Boxing Day sales did little to help sell big-ticket items in electronics and electricals, a category that continued to struggle on from the November downturn.
This was felt by department stores, whose Christmas Eve successes were overshadowed this year by early discounts and Boxing Day sales disappointment.
On the other hand, leisure goods, gaming, books, CDs and DVDs fared slightly better than the rest, with books reaching the category’s highest performance in two years.