Retailers fight to win custom over Christmas

Marion Dakers
SIGNS of a gloomy Christmas are piling up for British retailers, as two sets of research out today suggest that wary customers kept a close eye on their spending during December.

A survey of retailers by accountancy firm BDO points to a “good if not exceptional” Christmas, with like-for-like sales up 1.93 per cent on last year.

But this suggests disappointment for some shops, which were pinning hopes on a rush following morose November trading.

Carefully timed discounting managed to provide a late boost for some, according to the figures. In-store turnover in the week ending 29 December rose 11.3 per cent, while Boxing Day online sales were up 17 per cent on a year ago.

This jump was still below the pace of non-store sales growth throughout December, which BDO said increased by an “extremely strong” 30.85 per cent.

“By building up to Christmas early in a planned and measured way there has been less knee-jerk discounting,” said BDO national head of retail and wholesale, Don Williams. “At the same time consumers are continuing to feel the pinch of hard economic conditions and are being much more careful about when and where they spend their money.”

Visa card sales figures also suggested a subdued festive period. Month-on-month high street spending in December fell two per cent, and total household spending was 0.9 per cent lower on the month, or 1.7 per cent on last year, according to the firm’s card data compiled by Markit. Even online spending was broadly flat on last year during December, though takings ticked up as Christmas drew nearer.

“With inflation continuing to outstrip pay growth, and worries persisting about job security and the economic outlook, consumer spending looks likely to remain under pressure for some time,” said Markit chief economist Chris Williamson.