Retail sales have shown the largest annual fall since records began, new figures show.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said retail sales volumes rose 0.3% last month compared with November.

The year-on-year growth rate in the volume of retail sales increased by 2.9% when compared with December 2019.

However, the ONS said estimates of quantity bought in 2020 fell by 1.9% in the largest year-on-year fall since records began in 1997.

Food stores stood separate in 2020 with growth of 4.3%, as shoppers continued heading to supermarkets, which remained open as "essential" retailers throughout restrictions.

Many also benefitted from the closure of the hospitality sector, with upticks in alcohol sales.

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December saw a major boost to clothing stores in particular, the agency said, with strong monthly growth of 21.5% - rebounding from a large fall in November of 19.6%.

High street clothes stores have been hit particularly hard during the pandemic due to enforced closures under Covid-19 restrictions and lockdowns.

Most benefitted from a boost in online sales, which helped soften the falls, but sales in the sector are still 14.2% lower than December 2019 and remain below pre-pandemic levels.

Total online retailing values increased by 46.1% in 2020 when compared with 2019 - the highest annual growth reported since 2008, the ONS added.

Ed Monk, associate director, personal investing at Fidelity international, said the strong rise in online sales showed "that 2020 was a watershed for how and where we spend our money".

He added: "The festive period offered little respite for retailers with many still closed due to localised restrictions. It's a disheartening, if unsurprising, indicator of the impact of Covid-19."

Lisa Hooker, consumer markets leader at PwC, added: "In a month where non-essential shops and the high street hospitality industry experienced revolving doors of lockdown, changing tiers, Christmas and finally another lockdown, flat headline retail sales versus November seems almost a miracle."

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