Christmas Countdown Continues As Stores Face Low Sales on High Street

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Market Cross Chichester
Market Cross Chichester

In the UK retailing industry a large percentage of all sales throughout the year take place during November and December. This festive time of year is key for all the town centre shops to survive and be a success. Yesterday two assistants at The Body Shop in Chichester agreed that “sales have been very slow, for the run up to Christmas.”

In the historic market city of Chichester the Christmas market is all set up but stall holders won’t be selling out anytime soon. November and the first couple of weeks of December were not the festive shopping frenzy often seen in previous years. The only department store in Chichester House of Fraser is set to close in January and they have already started condensing the sales floor on the top floor as they slowly sell out and will not be expecting any deliveries to replenish their stock.

This week online retailer Asos “Shares plunged by nearly 38% following the (trading) update while rival fashion retailers also took a hit, with Marks & Spencer and Next each closing nearly 5% lower.” reported Sky News. (1)

Finally there was a long queue in Marks and Spencer at lunchtime on Friday the 14th December as some people had been paid their December wages and were heading to buy a few gifts from the famous British chain. However this won’t be any consolation for those who were working in the many now closed Marks and Spencer stores across the country.

Falling fuel prices and a rise in average wages should have boosted sales in the weeks before the holidays. The Office for National Statistics stated that compared to the previous year a “13.1% year on year growth in sales in November across ‘all retailing’” This includes the sales rise of “11% seen in electrical household appliances.” (2)

In November online sales as a proportion of all retailing exceeded 20% for the first time.” stated the Office for National Statistics. (3) This explains how High Street trading feels slow and yet actual spending had risen slightly on last year. Black Friday deals were publicised on the internet earlier in November than ever before, as businesses compete for customers who are keen to secure the best online deals.

I like to pick up presents from the shops a few months before Christmas, as I go along.” said one lady who is a nurse at the St Richards hospital in West Sussex.

One recent trend is for most of the retail sales to be more spread out between the months of November and December, compared to a decade ago when sales rose according to how close to the Christian winter holiday the date became. This change can be explained by the adoption of the American Thanksgiving shopping tradition of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. These extra events are now influencing consumer spending behaviour in the UK.

However consumer confidence still remains low as the uncertainty of Brexit means many families are tightening their purses and are worried about being able to afford the basics in the future like heating and food. For those that have held on in the hope for bargains and have yet to hit the shops, there is still time for a last minute rush. Many popular brands like Clarks, Phase Eight and Go Outdoors have started reducing prices by 50 percent or more this week several days ahead of the January sales. This is in an effort to simultaneously attract precious customers through their online and actual front doors.

(1) ‘ASOS becomes latest retailer to warn on Christmas sales’ James Sillars, business reporter, Sky News, 17 Dec 2018      https://news.sky.com/story/asos-is-latest-retailer-to-warn-on-xmas-sales-11583820

(2) ‘Retail sales, Great Britain: November 2018’ Office for National Statistics, Rhian Murphy 20 December 2018    https://www.ons.gov.uk/businessindustryandtrade/retailindustry/bulletins/retailsales/november2018

(3)’Falling fuel prices help boost pre-Christmas spending power’ James Sillars, business reporter, Sky News, 19 Dec 2018 https://news.sky.com/story/falling-fuel-prices-help-boost-pre-christmas-spending-power-11585738