UK retail sales fell at a seasonally-adjusted 0.1% in December from the month before, official figures suggest.
Compared with a year earlier, the quantity of goods sold rose a worse-than-expected 0.3%, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
This was the slowest annual growth rate for a December since 1998 – except for December 2010, when sales were hit by heavy snow, the ONS said.
Clothing and food sales did notably badly, but online retailers did well.
The ONS said that while sales continued to be higher than a year ago – a trend that began in August – this growth had lost its momentum.
In the bigger picture, sales have stagnated since mid-2007. The December 2012 figure was only 2.4% higher than the volume of sales recorded in December 2007.
The value of goods sold in December was 0.1% higher than November, and 0.7% higher than a year ago, indicating that the gradual price rises faced by shoppers came to a halt at the end of the year.
Shopping from home
Many High Street retailers reported bumper Boxing Day sales following what had been a fairly quiet run-up to Christmas, not helped by the rain.
In contrast, online retailers continued to increase their share of business. About 10.6% of sales were carried out online during the month, up from 9.4% a year earlier.
That share was down just 0.1 percentage points from November – a much smaller fall than usually occurs as this time of the year, when more shoppers typically head for the High Street for their Christmas purchases and for the Boxing Day sales.
The data tallies with figures from research firm Experian that suggested the number of visits to retail websites rose 86% on Christmas Eve, 71% on Christmas Day and 17% on Boxing Day compared with a year earlier, as many chains began their online sales before Christmas.
Total online sales were up 15.5% from a year earlier, led by a 36% increase by websites of department stores such as John Lewis.
With more people shopping online, it seems fewer felt the need to use their car. The volume of petrol and diesel sold in December fell 6.6% from a year ago.
Stripping out the effect of these lower car fuel sales from the data, total sales rose a more respectable 1.1% from a year ago.