Last week – with the onset of colder weather and the much-hyped reveal of retailers’ Christmas adverts – felt like the beginning, in earnest, of the lucrative festive season.
After unseasonably warm weather hampered retail sales in October – non-food sales were down 2.1% year on year – the more typical, chillier temperatures will have been welcomed with open arms by fashion retailers eager to shift their winter stock.
What’s more, a healthy dose of that ‘warm fuzzy feeling’ served up in the form of M&S’ and John Lewis’ long-awaited adverts will have helped put shoppers in the festive (and gift-buying) frame of mind.
And if last weekend in London’s Muswell Hill is anything to go by, activity on the high street has already gone up a gear.
Decorations and lights aplenty now adorn pavements and brighten shop windows, prompting shoppers (and coffee-guzzlers) to get the ball rolling on a Christmas to remember.
But retailers will have a few more weeks to wait before the tills truly ring out for Christmas. There are two obstacles in the diary that may yet delay consumer spend.
First up is that love-it-or-hate-it all-American retail phenomenon Black Friday, which has gathered some momentum in the UK over the past few years, especially in electricals.
“Great for sales, but tough on the bottom line, the official Black Friday weekend later this month will provide a fascinating insight into consumers’ gifting intentions this year”
It is possible that cash-strapped and uncertain consumers – confused about the health of the economy since last year’s Brexit vote – delayed some spending during October in order to take advantage of Black Friday Sales this year.
As the event becomes a mainstay in the British retail calendar, canny shoppers know that, if they wait another week or two, they may be able to do all their gifting at a slice of the price.
Black Friday itself falls on November 24, but some retailers – perhaps with a little more stock to shift after October’s stunted retail sales – will be tempted to eke out the event for longer, while others will opt to participate for the first time.
Great for sales, but tough on the bottom line, the official Black Friday weekend later this month will provide a fascinating insight into consumers’ gifting intentions this year.
’twas the weekend before Christmas
It is after this November discounting period that the nailbiting really begins, and anxious shop keepers will hope to see the less organised among us flood through the shop doors and clog their websites.
But, owing to Christmas Day falling on a Monday this year, they will need to exercise considerable patience and faith.
With a full shopping weekend before Christmas Day, those with a propensity to leave it until the last minute will have even more reason and opportunity to do so – pushing the patience of the retail sector to the limit.
What’s more, as shoppers become more trusting of – and reliant on – next- and same-day delivery, even online shoppers may be tempted to cut it a bit fine.
Christmas is coming
But, delayed or otherwise, Christmas will come – as it always does.
“Whenever we’ve had a tough economy, we’ve still had good Christmases”
The Works chief executive Kevin Keaney
Interest rate rises, consumer uncertainty and inflation aside, people want to give their families a Christmas to remember. Consumers may march further into debt, or save a bit by switching to the discounters, but they won’t sacrifice Christmas.
As The Works, chief executive Kevin Keaney says: “Whenever we’ve had a tough economy, we’ve still had good Christmases.
“People want to celebrate and cheer themselves up. Even when times are tough and people are being thrifty, parents will spend on their children and Christmas.”
While retail sales volumes might not be at their fullest this year (and by value will appear better thanks to inflation), there will be some standout performers this Christmas.
The discounters and value retailers are set to do very well this year, as are those in the middle market that are clearly differentiated, such as Joules and Ted Baker.
And according to GlobalData, the beauty retailers will perform well also, owing in part to the enduring health trend and innovation in the market.
That’s not to say retailers won’t suffer a case of the January blues, of course, when the purse strings are once again tightened.
And if the housing market slows further, it will be the big-ticket and home retailers’ turn to bear the brunt.