UK retail sales rose by 1.8 per cent in real value terms in November, according to the latest British Retail Consortium (BRC) survey.
However, with inflation now at 2.7 per cent, this suggests that retail sales volumes are actually falling.
And the growth of online sales seemed to stall in November with the third worst set of figures for the year so far.
Retail analysts suggested that this was in part due to shoppers delaying their Christmas spending and waiting for more online bargains.
Stephen Robertson, Director General, British Retail Consortium, said: "November online sales overall failed to regain momentum lost since the summer. It looks as if consumers were holding off buying because of lack of spare cash and so online sales conversions may have fallen.
“They may also have been waiting in expectation of discounts. A risky strategy for in-demand products but a sign that customers have faith that the ever-shorter delivery times achieved by retailers mean they can order later and still get their goods in time for Christmas.”
Like-for-like retail sales, a measure that takes out changes in floorspace, rose by 0.4 per cent compared to November 2011 after falling by 0.1 per cent in October. Retail analysts had been expecting a rise in like-for-like sales of 0.9 per cent.
The rise in retail sales was lower than expected and analysts say this is because savvy shoppers are hunting for bargains and are starting their Christmas shopping slightly later than normal.
The CBI recently reported a stable reading in its retail sales index for November and GFK reported a rise in consumer confidence to its highest level for 18 months.
Online sales increased by 7.5 per cent compared to the corresponding month last year. However, there was no increase in November compared to October. November was the third worst month for online sales in 2012, though Mega Monday and the rest of December are likely to show a big pick-up as online sales continue to have an increasing influence on Christmas shopping.
The BRC reports that non-food sales were helped by the timing of half-term but that food sales were down on a quarterly basis.
Stephen Robertson said: "November was off to a flying start helped by end-of-month paydays, mid-season sales and the impact of half term, which had been in the previous month last year.
“But sales growth slowed as November unfolded, suggesting that customers are taking care not to spend too much too soon.”
Retailers will be pinning their hopes that consumers are waiting to buy Christmas presents until December this year.
Stephen Robertson said: “Overall, the emphasis continued to be on value with consumers looking at lower priced gifts. The same caution hit online sales, which delivered their third worst performance of the year. With consumers conscious that there will be a full shopping weekend immediately before Christmas, retailers are holding their nerve and counting on a last minute rush in the crucial final weeks."
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