Retailers experiencing “relentlessly tough” market conditions averted disaster over Christmas but are now facing a period which will see a further spate of business failures, according to BRC director general Helen Dickinson.

Latest BRC figures show total sales were up by just 1.5% over December, compared to the previous year, a figure which would be wiped out by taking into account inflation.

The only reason for growth, added Dickinson, was that shoppers had two extra days of shopping before Christmas compared to the year before, adding that footfall was “disappointingly low.”

“These figures show that businesses are running to stand still,” said Dickinson, who said there was “certainly a risk of more failures.”

The one bright spot came from online, where even against a strong performance last year, recorded sales were up by nearly 18%, accounting for around 15% of all Christmas trading.

“Online was the stand out performer showing its highest rate of growth this year,” she said.