A dramatic reversal of fortunes brought to an end an eighteen month run of turnover growth for small shops in the last three months of 2015, according to the British Independent Retailers Association (bira).
While local conditions varied across the country, unseasonally warm and wet weather, falling footfall, falling prices, deeper discounting in sales and a rising tide of non-store retail in an "internet Christmas" triggered in November by Black Friday, all contributed to the first quarterly drop in sales since the beginning of 2014.
The key shift that produced the overall average year-on-year decline of 2.35% was the reversal from six out of ten independents seeing growth in earlier periods to six out of ten finding less in the till in the crucial final quarter.
The bira report showed that the North East completed a welcome full year of growth, but the flood-hit North West suffered an 8.5% drop in the Christmas quarter.
For department stores, fashion shops, DIY and Cookshop retailers the period saw good runs of growth earlier in the year submerged as all fell below zero.
One in five retailers increased sale time activity to boost takings, but one in four did less.
Four in ten kept sale activity as before while the remaining one in ten spent nothing in this area, according to the survey.
These results polarised confidence levels, with nearly one in ten feeling very confident about the year ahead, a third more than in Q3, but with one in twenty moving from reasonable confidence to anxiety, returning to levels seen in the first half of the year. However, bira said that all is not lost.
The company said in a statement: “Retailers are by nature optimistic, it’s in the blood, and this will stand them in good stead after a warm and soggy fourth quarter: facing increased business rates, the loss of the £1,500 rates discount and the advent of the National Living Wage, all in April, they will be counting on improved trade to pump up results to overcome the added load that the government seems intent on adding to weigh down on high street bouyancy.”