Retail sales posted their lowest annual growth in three years in December, new figures from the Central Statistics Office show today.

Retail sales were pulled down by sales of electrical goods that slumped by almost 23% after a November "Black Friday" sales boost. 

Retailers have in recent months noted strong competition from UK online retailers as well as Northern Irish competitors due to weakness in sterling following Britain's vote to leave the European Union. 

Today's CSO figures show that annual retail volues grew 3.4% in December.

This was down from 4.3% growth in November and was the lowest annual growth since November 2013, the provisional figures from the CSO showed. 

Retail sales fell 0.7% compared to November, or by 2.7% excluding car sales, which have had a strong year. 

The CSO also said that provisional estimates for retail sales volume growth for 2016 were up 5.9%, or 4.3% if car sales are excluded.

Today's figures show that the largest monthly falls were seen in the electrical goods sector, with sales slumping by 22.7% in December. Hardware, paints and glass sales were down 4.1% while fuel sales fell by 2.4%.

The sector with the biggest monthly volume increase was non-specialised stores, which includes supermarkets, with sales there up 0.9%

Commenting on today's figures, Merrion economist Alan McQuaid said that while retail sales continue to remain erratic on a monthly basis the underlying trend is positive. 

"While most attention has been on robust car sales in the past couple of years, personal spending in other areas has generally picked up too over the same period and is becoming more broad-based," the economist said.

Mr McQuaid said that the Brexit fall-out and the uncertain economic implications will likely impact negatively on Irish consumer sentiment, resulting in lower personal spending in the months ahead. 

"Furthermore, anecdotal evidence suggests that the sharp fall in sterling has enticed Irish shoppers to spend in Northern Ireland even though the pound has regained some lost ground versus the euro in recent weeks," he stated. 

He also said it was worth noting that total VAT receipts for 2016 at €12.420 billion were €439m below Department of Finance expectations, which does not augur well for 2017.