Christmas outlook criticalMonday, 09 November 2009
Last year was armageddon, said Sir Stuart Rose when he unveiled M&Ss interim results this week. There were lots of people sitting on their backsides, sat on sofas, watching the TV with their mouths open...Its a year better now.
But another executive likens the mood pervading on the high street to that after the second world war with spenders desperate for, yet unable to afford, better times. This was akin to Britons yearning for the end of rationing.
It feels like post-war Britain, he says. [Retailers] planned for the worst, and it has not quite been the worst, says Tony Shiret, analyst at Credit Suisse. But he notes that current sales compare more favourably with those of a year ago, when sales were particularly weak.
According to BDOs High Street Sales Tracker, like-for-like sales rose 2.1 per cent in October. In the year- earlier period, they fell 3.2 per cent. In addition, retailers are more conditioned for a recessionary climate than they were a year ago, and will have adjusted their business models accordingly.
John Lewis which reported strong sales recently is more upbeat about Christmas than it was six months ago. Consequently, it has increased its stock levels in anticipation of this Christmas being better than last, although it may fall short of 2007.
run-up may be a planned increase in VAT on January 1. It is expected to revert to 17.5 per cent, although Sir Stuart said he could not rule out a higher level, nor VAT being applied to other previously exempt categories.
But doubts remain, among the fashion retailers in particular. The recent spate of warm weather has not been helpful to retailers seeking to shift stocks of coats and woolies.
Stores are now taking delivery of cocktail dresses and tuxedo jackets in readiness for the Christmas party season. If they do not start selling sweaters soon, they could be forced to discount. Research also suggests that spending this Christmas on gift items will remain subdued.
Mr Shiret also points out that although the run-up to Christmas last year was weak, the final few shopping days were better spelling uncertainty for how the final big days of this year will measure up to 2008.
Mr Duddy agrees this could be an issue: What happened last year, people held back with their purchasing right to the last four to five days around Christmas. Those are going to be strong figures.