Christmas Retail Sales – 2013 December Sales in the UK

Christmas Retail Sales 2013

Retail figures for December 2013 were released by the Office for National Statistics on Friday (17th January 2014).

The press have reported in their usual sensational way:

UK retail sales surge over Christmas – FT

UK Retail Sales Jump in Crucial Christmas Period – abcnews

UK Retail Sales Beat Forecasts With Record Christmas Increase – Bloomberg

Let’s have a look at the data. Was it really a “surge”, “jump” or a “Record Christmas Increase”?


Christmas Retail Sales Excluding Fuel

The first data set I have looked at is the value of non-seasonally adjusted “All Retailing excluding automotive fuel”. Value is key given the high promotion environment in the period. Many large retailers have noted the impact of promotions on their early earnings reports for 2014.

The data set goes back to 1986, but I have limited our analysis to 2000.

Firstly, the raw figures of Christmas retail sales since 2000:

Christmas Retail Sales - Pic 1

Indeed, a “record” Christmas. But these figures obviously mean very little until we include inflation.


Inflation included

Christmas Retail Sales - Pic 2


December as a % of the year

This represents December’s retail sales as a percentage of the entire year’s retail sales (including December). In 2013, this figure was 12.6%. This is the highest it has been since 2006, which would seem to suggest that Christmas was booming in 2013. However, there are two issues here.

Firstly, this only shows that Christmas retails sales in 2013 were better than the sales for the rest of the year. The rest of 2013 could have been “diabolical”, with Christmas only being “very bad”. Therefore, this doesn’t really give us much insight into the success of Christmas retail sales in 2013.

Secondly, the variation in this number is very small. Yes, it is the best it has been since 2006, but it was nearly the same as 2007, 2011 and 2012 (within 0.01%).

Therefore, we won’t place much weight on this figure either.

Increase on prior year

The next column shows us each December performance vs the performance in the December of the prior year. This is a % version of the prior raw figures shown.

In December 2013, we had an increase of 4.2% compared to December 2012. Not bad. The average year-on-year increase since 2000 is 3.3%. However, in the last 13 years, there have been four occasions where the year-on-year increase was above 4.2%.

Whilst positive, its difficult to state this increase as a “jump”, “surge” or a “record”.


Increase on prior year with inflation

The final column is the best way to evaluate the data. This shows the year-on-year increase in Christmas retail sales compared to the prior period, but including the impact of inflation for the year:

Christmas Retail Sales - Pic 4

In December 2013, we had an after-inflation increase in non-fuel retail sales of 2.1% compared to December 2012.

The average year-on-year after-inflation increase since 2000 is 0.5%. Therefore, this is a significant increase compared to historical figures.

But, it still doesn’t classify as a “surge” or “record”. Again, in the last 13 years, there have been three occasions where the year-on-year after-inflation increase was above 2.1%.


Other areas of interest

What else does the data tell us? Who are the winners and losers?

Christmas Retail Sales - Pic 3


Losers in December 2013

  • Small business – Following the worst performance on record in December 2012, things didn’t get much better for small businesses. They account for the smallest percentage of total retail sales since 2000 (other than December 2012).
  • Alcoholic beverages & tobacco – I would assume that this is most greatly impacted by a fall in tobacco sales, but this category recorded its worst percentage of overall sales since 2000.
  • Electrical household appliances – White goods suffered as well. The worst performance they have noted since 2000 and accounting for under half of what they did in the early 00s.
  • Audio, video & music – Equally poor for audio, video and music. Another worst performer in 2013, with a share of 0.6% of total sales (against a record of 1.6% in 2001).



  • Mail order – There was one clear winner in December 2013. 6.9% of all sales were made via “mail order”, which is the highest figure ever recorded. Another pleasing fact for all the new Royal Mail shareholders so well rewarded in 2013.
  • Computers & telecommunications – Maybe this one was a draw! However, they have increased their percentage since 2012 and are generally in line with the performance since 2000.


Have you noticed the shops were busier this Christmas? Did you spend more or less? What do you think will be the winners and losers next Christmas?

3 thoughts on “Christmas Retail Sales – 2013 December Sales in the UK

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