Retail sales fell by volume and value in November, official data showed. The decline came as a surpise to the sector.

Sales slipped 0.2% by value month on month, and 0.3% by volume. However sales were up 2.7% by value year on year and ahead 3.1% by volume, the Office for National Statistics reported.

The value of sales at food stores was up 3.4% year on year and 1.1% at predominantly non-food shops. Within the latter group, clothing and footwear sales rose 1.5% and non-specialised stores were ahead by 3.1%. However the “other stores” category was down 1.9%.

Non-store retailing – which includes online sales – was up 9.9%.

Barclays head of retail and wholesale Richard Lowe, said: “The figures are surprising considering general expectations of rises in sales figures over the past month coupled with innovative strategies being adopted by retailers this Christmas season.

“The mild and wet weather in November seemed to dampen demand for winter clothing, although retailers of household goods continued to benefit from a growing appetite for big ticket items, ahead of the increase in VAT.  

“More contemporary survey evidence suggests that sales have improved in December, although it remains to be seen to what extent the prospect of a rise in VAT on January 1 has displaced demand for big ticket items from future periods.”

British Retail Consortium economist Richard Lim, said: “Consumer confidence can’t be taken for granted but generally customers are feeling more positive than a year ago.

“Considering Bank of England interest rate cuts can take up to 18 months to feed through, some of this is certainly the cumulative effects of lower mortgage rates now supporting spending.

“Worries remain for the New Year - about jobs and taxes in particular - but most retailers are now reasonably sure of a better Christmas than last year’s dire performance.”