Retailers are cautiously optimistic in the run-up to Christmas although a later than usual rush is likely after disappointing November sales.
Total sales in November were up 1.8% on a like-for-like basis against last year, which the British Retail Consortium said was the second worst performing month this year.
For many retailers though, Christmas spending has finally started. Poundland chief executive Jim McCarthy said: “It was a slow start but beginning to move now,” adding that lines such as cards and toys are now “rocketing” and he is “very optimistic about Christmas”.
Alliance Boots executive chairman Stefano Pessina said “people are a little bit more confident now” and he is confident Boots will have a “more than acceptable Christmas”.
Fashion retailers have had a tough November. One womenswear retailer said shoppers “won’t buy full price now.”
Another chief executive of a womenswear chain said: “There’s a lot of promotional activity still going on out there and that will affect how we trade. Department stores said they would pull back on it this year but they haven’t. There have been aggressive promotions at Debenhams and I see that continuing in the run-up to Christmas.”
However, many have said they expect Christmas will be positive. Peacocks chief executive Richard Kirk said: “We found it tough in early November, but we strengthened at the end of the month and trade has been excellent.”
Aurora chief executive Mike Shearwood said: “We are very comfortable with current trading. If we continue with these current levels we will be pleased with our trading in the run-up to Christmas.”
This week online retailers were lifted by ‘Cyber Monday’, when sales of more than £350m were recorded online – up 16% compared with the same day last year.
Firebox.com managing director Christian Robinson said: “December 7 was our busiest day ever, with sales up 30% on last year. Traditionally over a number of years the second Monday in December has been our peak trading day but because it fell so early this year we think we might see another spike this coming Monday.”