Retailers appear to have had a stronger Christmas season in 2017 than in the previous year.

According to preliminary figures from the Central Statistics Office, the volume of retail sales in December was up by 7.2% compared to the same month in 2016.

In value terms, there was an increase of 4.5% in retail sales.

If car sales are excluded, the volume of sales was 7.6% higher in December 2017 with sales values up by 4.6% annually.

However, compared to the month of November, retail sales were down in December with volume and value levels 1% lower, when car sales are excluded.

This points to a growing trend of purchasing more items for Christmas online and the growing popularity of dedicated retail days such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

"Black Friday is playing havoc with the seasonal pattern of Christmas sales, with electrical goods up 17% in November before an 18% fall last month," Conall MacCoille, chief economist with Davy said.

For 2017 as a whole, sales were 4.3% higher on average than 2016.

Alan McQuaid, chief economist with Merrion, said the figures were broadly in line with expectations.

He said overall personal spending has remained robust, boosted by the increase in the employment numbers.

"Looking ahead to 2018, we think personal spending will post another positive increase as the unemployment rate drops below 6.0% and disposable incomes rise, though the increases in retail sales are likely to be lower than 2017. 

All in all, we are forecasting headline sales to post growth of 3-4% this year, with 'core' sales rising 5-6%," he said.

Conall Mac Coille agreed, saying the key driver of consumer recovery has been employment.

"In addition, wages are rising and the income tax cuts in Budget 2018 will boost disposable incomes by close to 0.5% at the average wage. 

"So looking ahead to 2018, we expect that consumer spending will rise by close to 3%, with retail sales volumes likely to see another year of growth exceeding 5%."