Christmas run-up sees growth strength on the high street, CBI reports

High street sales growth accelerated in the year to December, according to the CBI’s latest monthly Distributive Trades Survey, which covers the crucial run-up to Christmas.

The survey of 118 firms showed the volume of retails sales picked up in December, and was slightly above the average for the time of year, albeit below retailers’ expectations. Growth in retail sales volumes is expected to slow somewhat next month.

Growth in orders placed upon suppliers recovered in the twelve months to December, after falling in the previous month, but is expected to be flat in the year to January.

Following Black Friday, internet sales volumes rose at their quickest pace since April, with the pace of growth expected to hold broadly steady in January.

Among the retail sub-sectors, grocers saw solid growth in the run-up to Christmas, rebounding from November’s lowest survey balance since May 2012. Another strong performance was reported in the clothing sector, but footwear & leather sales growth fell.

Wholesaling and motor traders saw robust growth in the year to December, with both sectors exceeding expectations. They expect a further pick-up in growth in January.

Barry Williams, CBI Distributive Trades chairman and Asda’s chief customer officer, said “It’s no surprise sales have recovered as we head into the final shopping days of the Christmas season.

“It would be ideal if the industry could keep that momentum into the New Year but retailers know 2015 was tough, and they’re expecting 2016 to start in much the same vein.

“Nevertheless, retailers are helping to make the pound in customers’ pockets go further, and low fuel prices should give an additional boost to consumer spending through the New Year.”

Key findings


  • 43% of retailers said that sales volumes were up in December on a year ago, whilst 24% said they were down, giving a balance of +19%. This was an increase on the previous month (+7%), but below expectations (+31%)
  • 22% of retailers expect sales volumes to increase in the year to January, with 14% expecting them to decrease, giving a rounded balance of +9%, the lowest since May 2012 (-6%)
  • 34% of retailers placed more orders with suppliers than they did a year ago, and 26% placed fewer, giving a balance of +8%. Orders are expected to be flat next month
  • Most sub-sectors saw growth in sales volumes: strong performances were reported in the non-store sector – which includes online, mail order and catalogue sales (+66%), clothing (+56%), recreational goods (+51%), and grocers (+25%).
  • Volumes of internet sales in the retail sector rose solidly (+53%), to the highest survey balance since April (+55%).


  • 37% of wholesalers reported sales volumes to be up on last year and 21% said they were down, giving a balance of +16%, which exceeded expectations (+7%).

Motor trades:

  • 48% of motor traders reported that sales volumes were up on a year ago, while none said they were down, giving a balance of +48%, significantly exceeding expectations (+8%).