Retail growth leading up to Christmas has been held back as consumers get ready for a "price-conscious" holiday period, research released today revealed.
The British Retail Consortium said like-for-like UK sales rose 1.2 per cent in November, compared to 2006, which was an improvement on the previous month's growth, but still well below the 2.4 per cent average for 2007 so far.
Much of the rise was put down to a surge of shoppers during the last week of November as high street retailers tempted people out with marketing campaigns and discount deals.
Kevin Hawkins, director general of the BRC, said: "This result was not unexpected, given that November is traditionally a quiet month for sales and that many consumers are feeling apprehensive about next year. Much of this modest growth, however, came in the fourth week of the month thanks to an upsurge in discounting activity.
"This points yet again to a very price-conscious Christmas for many consumers."
Helen Dickinson, head of retail at KPMG, said the figures would be disappointing for retailers as they went into the crucial Christmas period. She said: "November has historically been a poor month for trading, and this month doesn't seem to have changed that trend.
"Womenswear has had a particularly disappointing month, but there were some positive signs for most sectors in the last week of November.
"December trading will be crucial to results, with many retailers pinning their hopes on increased consumer spending this Christmas."
The BRC figures showed November clothing sales were lower than the same month last year, with womenswear in particular suffering.
The final wet week of the month helped stores shift knitwear and coats, although this was also helped by heavy discounting.
Electrical goods sales were also softer with trade in flat-screen televisions and games consoles held back by a lack of availability.
A spokesman for market analysts Global Insight said the results over Christmas would be a key indicator of the future of the economy.
He said: "Given that consumer spending accounts for around 65 per cent of total GDP, its resilience or otherwise will play a major role in determining to what extent the economy slows.
"The Bank of England believes that some slowdown in growth is necessary to dilute inflationary pressures, but it does not want growth to slow too sharply and there is clearly a very real risk of this. "