Retail sales over Christmas will be stronger than initially expected, but it’s “hard to be optimistic about 2012”, according to Mintel. The research company predicts retail sales growth of between 4% and 5% in December, and 1% of that could be volume growth. Mintel said its research shows people plan to spend more; for example, 16% plan to buy electrical equipment, up from 12% in 2010. Meanwhile, retail sales in recent months have been “strong” and there’s no reason to think they’ll weaken as Christmas nears. Comparisons with last year, where sales were hit by the snow, will also not be demanding, Mintel added. Richard Perks, director of retail at Mintel, said: “Retail sales have remained strong because people have been most reluctant to cut back on food and clothing. So they have been prepared to absorb the high rates of inflation in those two sectors in order to maintain their lifestyles and they have cut back even harder elsewhere. “This is good news for retailers. They went into 2011 in a very cautious mood. Faced with the consumer squeeze and rising unemployment they took a very prudent view of the prospects for Christmas. They are, therefore, likely to be short of stock. That may not be ideal, but it means they should achieve a relatively high rate of full price sales. Only the major underperformers are likely to be ‘on sale’ before Christmas.” On-line sales will rise over Christmas, Mintel added, but this isn’t necessarily damaging for major retailers. “With the majority of online sales through the websites of the major high street or catalogue retailers, the move online is, therefore, not a bad thing for the market leaders, in fact it is likely to strengthen their position in the marketplace,” said Perks. But on a downbeat note, he added: “It’s hard to be optimistic about 2012. The negative factors in 2011 will continue – rising unemployment and squeezed incomes. Volume sales will be weak and there is a real possibility of a retail recession – something we have, so far, not experienced since the downturn started in Spring 2008.”