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LONDON, Jan 21 (Reuters) - British retail sales slumped in December after consumers did much of their Christmas shopping earlier than usual in November and many consumers stayed at home due to the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant.
Sales volumes fell by 3.7% from November, a far bigger hit than the 0.6% decline forecast in a Reuters poll of economists and the biggest fall since January of last year when the country was under a coronavirus lockdown.
Compared with December 2020, sales volumes were down by 0.9%, the Office for National Statistics said on Friday.
The Reuters poll had pointed to a 3.4% rise in sales in annual terms.
"After strong pre-Christmas trading in November, retail sales fell across the board in December, with feedback from retailers suggesting Omicron impacted on footfall," ONS Deputy Director for Surveys Heather Bovill said.
"As Plan B restrictions in England meant more people working from home, there was a notable fall for fuel sales."
But retail sales remained stronger than before the pandemic, with over a quarter of sales now made online, she said.
Non-food sales slumped by 7.1% in December from November, also the biggest fall since January last year.
British retail sales recovered quickly from their 2020 pandemic slump when restrictions were first lifted.
But fast-rising inflation led by surging energy prices, the prospect of higher interest rates and a tax hike in April will test the appetite of consumers to keep on spending in 2022. (Reporting by William Schomberg, Editing by Paul Sandle and James Davey)