January retail sales registered the sharpest decline since last May as customers reined in spending and lockdown hammered store sales.

Total retail sales in the four weeks to January 30 fell 1.3% year on year as like-for-like sales from stores that continue to operate under lockdown measures registered a 7.1% uplift.

Total sales during the period declined for the first time since last May, with the 1.3% decline below the three-month average growth of 0.3% and above the 12-month average decline of 0.4%.

On a three-month basis in-store sales of non-food items fell 37% and 20% on a total and like-for-like basis respectively, while online sales increased 83% – the highest year-on-year uplift on record. 

Food sales rose 7.5% in like-for-like terms and 7.9% overall.

BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson OBE said: “January saw retail sales growth decline to its lowest level since May of last year. The current lockdown has hit non-essential retailers harder than in November, with the new variant hampering consumer confidence and leading customers to hold back on spending – especially on clothing and footwear.

“Meanwhile, retailers have worked incredibly hard to expand their online delivery and click-and-collect offerings to ensure everyone can get the products they need during lockdown. This has led to record growth for online non-food sales and is a testament to the resilience and innovation of retail, which in the face of the pandemic has rapidly adapted and invested in online platforms and delivery logistics.”

KPMG’s UK head of retail Paul Martin added: “For the first time since last spring, we saw total monthly sales decline and even the ongoing demand for groceries and home-related categories was not enough to halt the fall. 

“Although online channels continued to experience historic growth with more than 60% of all non-food sales transacted online, the lockdown meant that the traditional January sales period did not really materialise for the rest of the retail sector, with just a handful of categories recording any growth.”