UK retail sales outperformed the European average over Christmas as online shopping helped boost sales in a tough trading environment.

Retail sales grew 2.6% in December in the UK, compared with a flat performance across Europe.

Retail sales growth was weakest in the eurozone, where sales fell 1.6% in December as low consumer confidence hit trading, according to a report from the European retail research arm of property firm CBRE.

In contrast, retailers enjoyed a strong Christmas in Russia, where sales increased 9.5% as an “emerging middle class and growing availability of credit” helped drive sales growth.

In Poland sales grew 8.6%.

Store groups in Italy, Portugal and Spain experienced the worse decline in sales, “reflecting the impact of harsh austerity measures, higher tax rates and very low consumer confidence levels”. Retail sales in Italy slumped 10%.

The report found that the UK sales growth was driven by the snow-affected trading in the run up to Christmas 2010, combined with the mild autumn in 2011 which delayed clothing spending until December, and the early sales and heavy discounting.

The report also found that online sales grew at their fastest rate in the UK, Sweden, Russia and the Czech Republic. Web sales are falling however in some territories, most notably Spain and Portugal. 

CBRE head of EMEA retail research Neville Moss said: “Our research suggests that shoppers are increasingly taking advantage of the advances in mobile technology, ease of delivery, and of course the opportunity to avoid the festive crowds.

“However, it is no coincidence that those retailers that traded well over the period, such as John Lewis or Next in the UK, have extensive physical store networks as well as sophisticated and long-standing online platforms.”

The report drew data from Eurostat and National Statistic Offices.