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UK retail sales fell sharply in November, as much of the nation's shops closed to prevent the spread of Covid, although sales declined by slightly less than analysts expected, data released Friday by the Office for National Statistics showed.

Retail sales declined by 3.8% between in November, slightly better than forecasts of a 4.2% decline. Transactions jumped by 2.8% over October of 2019. Sales are now 2.6% above pre-pandemic levels in February.

As highlighted in the the MNI Reality Check, early Christmas shopping at essential retailers, which were permitted to trade during the lockdown, rose sharply, with supermarket sales rising by 3.1%, the biggest rise since March.

Despite the November fall, sales could still make a positive contribution to gross domestic product over the final three months of the year. Sales must rise by 0.9% in December to leave sales on level pegging with the third quarter.

Non-food store sales plunged by 8.0% in November, with clothing sales down by 19.0% over the month. Clothing sales remain 30.5% lower than pre-pandemic levels. Sales declined in all categories, with the exception of household goods, which eked out a 1.6% rise over the month. Household good sales stand 15.2% above February levels.

Internet sales rose by 6.3% in November, taking online transactions up by an annual rate of 74.7%. That took internet purchases to 31.4% of total sales by value last month, up from 28.6% in October, but below the record-high of 33.9% recorded in May.