The festive season may be well and truly over for another year, but many retailers are still counting their profits and determining just how successfully they were able to tap into the Christmas boom.
Last week we looked at the substantial boost online-only businesses received from the annual rush, but today it's the turn of the wider retail sector thanks to new figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
According to the numbers, sales in December were up by an impressive 5.3% on the year before. This is the fastest annual sales growth the UK has seen since 2004 - and the figure represents just how vital Christmas was for Britain's retailers.
The surge is striking. Indeed, it's so surprising to some economists that they have expressed strong doubts about the research. But there's plenty of data to back up the report, so it's tough to see exactly where things could have gone wrong.
What's especially pleasing about the figures is that they suggest SMEs are playing a pivotal role in driving growth in the economy. As the stats show, small stores have seen year on year revenue growth of 8% - far outstripping the 2.6% achieved by their larger counterparts.
The challenge now is for businesses to concentrate their efforts on maintaining December's momentum - promoting growth and pursuing new ways to boost profits.
It's the substantial gains that smaller businesses have been making that are most encouraging, and they clearly demonstrate the important role that SMEs have to play on the high street.
Yet it's essential that the performance is put into perspective, and the end of 2013 should be seen as a platform on which to build in the coming 12 months.
The challenge now is for businesses to concentrate their efforts on maintaining December's momentum. It's a tough ask given that January traditionally sees a slowdown in consumer spending, and will be especially difficult this time around considering the strength of last month's boom.
But that doesn't mean SMEs should be content with indifferent results, because now is the time to redouble their efforts, focus on promoting growth and continue pursuing new ways to boost profits.
One area where this may be possible for many smaller businesses is online, which is a sales channel that continues to go from strength to strength.
The British Retail Consortium have explained that retailers with multichannel offerings have enjoyed particular success, so if small stores are able to tap into the potential of the web, then the opportunity to grow their customer base is evidently there.
This may appear to be a major step for some smaller retailers to take, but if the move is achievable then it could make a significant contribution to continued sales growth and, who knows, an even bigger Christmas in 2014.
Dan O’Sullivan is Make It Cheaper's Web Content Manager, which means much of his time is dedicated to ensuring we have plenty of online material to help business owners understand the energy, insurance and telecoms industries. With years of experience working alongside SMEs, Dan is committed to making life as easy as possible for smaller firms. You can email Dan at firstname.lastname@example.org
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