Page last updated at 09:13 GMT, Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Shop sales grow at 'slowest rate for 15 years'

Shoppers in Cwmbran, Wales, last month
With the weather and economy both grim many shoppers stayed away

The High Street has suffered an "awful" start to the year with the slowest January sales growth for 15 years.

The value of goods sold grew 1.2% in January compared with the previous year as bad weather kept shoppers away.

On a like-for-like basis - excluding store expansions and closures - sales fell by 0.7%, according to the British Retail Consortium (BRC).

Food sales held up well in the first half of the month, however, thanks to stocking up during the icy weather.

Online sales continued to rise fast - these were 14.6% higher in January compared with a year ago.

Cold-weather clothing also saw a boost later in the month, although sales were down compared with a very good December.

'Awful start'

Stephen Robertson, director general of the BRC, said the figures revealed the worst growth in January retail sales for 15 years.

"It's an awful start to the year and in stark contrast to an upbeat December," he said.

"The VAT change brought some sales forward to December, but customers are becoming cautious again in the face of economic and political uncertainty.

"Retailers will be hoping these results are mainly a snow induced blip, rather than an indication of further difficulties."

Analysts had expected a stronger rise in sales as a result of higher prices compared with January last year.

At the end of December, the official rate of inflation jumped to 2.9%, reflecting higher prices and the recovery in the economy.

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