As Black Friday approaches, its impact on traditional golden-quarter trading patterns may be more significant than ever.
It takes place against a pressured backdrop for retailers, following a poor October for many and ahead of what may be a difficult end to the peak period if Black Friday simply moves spend forward.
Speaking to retail chiefs over the past few weeks, there has been a mood of cautious optimism tempered by underlying anxiety.
“Not a single penny can be taken for granted, but consumers will want, as always, a happy Christmas with all that entails”
Most agree this Christmas is unlikely to shoot the lights out. It’s too early to write off the golden quarter, but neither is it in the bag.
Various forecasts tell different stories, but what is certain is that every penny of sales and profit will have to be hard-fought for.
Last week’s Office for National Statistics data included some interesting findings, perhaps giving a taste of things to come.
While second-hand goods specialists made a notable contribution to non-food growth, that category includes fine art dealers alongside charity shops, so it’s hard to say the popularity of the latter signals a more frugal consumer mood in straitened circumstances.
Perhaps the two extremes are an example of that retail perennial, polarisation?
There were different messages to take from the data too. Encouragingly, volume and value were both up on a three-month on three-month basis. However, year-on-year volume was down while value was up, driven by inflation.
Reasons to be cheerful
It remains to be seen whether this week’s promotional spectacular will represent a high point of the golden quarter, but some of the current gloom may be overdone.
After all, this time last year many were forecasting that retail would come to a shuddering halt in 2017 as inflation kicked in.
It hasn’t quite played out that way, hard and volatile as conditions have sometimes been.
So, providing no doubt a hostage to fortune, if I have to jump one way or the other for the retail industry in general, it’ll be alright on the night as far as Christmas is concerned.
Not a single penny can be taken for granted, but consumers will want, as always, a happy Christmas with all that entails.
What that will tell us about how 2018 will fare is anyone’s guess.