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British Retail Consortium chief executive Helen Dickinson has described 2019 as the “worst year on record” as it was the first to show an overall decline in retail sales.

The BRC said that total retail sales in November and December – incorporating Christmas and Black Friday – were down 0.9% compared to 2018.

Dickinson said the decline was reflected in the CVAs, shop closures and job losses that the industry suffered in 2019.

She also said that the political instability that led twice to the prospect of a no-deal Brexit, followed by a December general election “further weakening demand for the festive period”.

“Black Friday overtook Christmas as the biggest shopping week of the year for non-food items,” she said. “Retailers also faced challenges as consumers became both more cautious and more conscientious as they went about their Christmas shopping.”

Dickinson said that the public’s confidence in Britain’s trade negotiations would have a big impact on spending over the coming year.

“There are many ongoing challenges for retailers: to drive up productivity, continue to raise wages, improve recyclability of products and cut waste.

“However, this takes resources, so it is essential the new government makes good on its promise to review, and then reform the broken business rates system which sees retail pay 25% of all business rates, while accounting for 5% of the economy.”

Paul Martin, UK head of retail at KPMG, said that the true performance of Christmas trading was still to be determined.

“The cost of customer returns must not be overlooked,” he said. “That’s especially true as online fulfilment already costs retailers a pretty penny.”