Wednesday 4 December 2019 11:44 am

DEBATE: Are there any signs that UK retailers could be in for a merry Christmas this year?

Nicholas Mazzei is a corporate social responsibility adviser, and a former MEP candidate.
Steve Hastings
Steve Hastings is founder and executive planning director at independent advertising agency isobel.

Are there any signs that UK retailers could be in for a merry Christmas this year?

YES, says Nicholas Mazzei, a corporate social responsibility adviser.

There has been much lamentation of the declining retail sector as a mark of our age, but this Christmas is looking to be very merry for retailers. 

Black Friday was a huge shopping success, with Barclaycard reporting that transaction value was up 16.5 per cent on 2018, and volumes rose by more than seven per cent. Cyber Monday also saw a similar increase on last year. And there was even a jump in footfall this November in high street stores and shopping centres. 

Much of this, of course, comes from consumer debt, which rose in 2019, according to the charity StepChange. And a lot of that debt is going onto store cards, a trend that has risen from the dead after collapsing in the 2008 economic crash. 

Combined with signs of a boost in consumer confidence in the economy three months out, likely due to a hoped-for resolution to the Brexit quagmire, people are spending this Christmas like it’s 2007 — and retail stores will be celebrating. The hangover, though, is going to be rough. 

NO, says Steve Hastings, founder and executive planning director at independent advertising agency isobel.

No doubt retailers are keener on Christmas than turkeys, but can piped music on a loop and rictus grins paper over the cracks caused by the creeping malaise triggered by Brexit, an election, chilly weather, and worsening economic news? Probably not.

November spend is barely up on last year, with department stores down by 5.9 per cent, electronics down by five per cent, and clothing by 3.3 per cent, according to Barclaycard. And with Brexit planning gone awry, many retailers now have too much stock on their hands, forcing some traumatic sales behaviour and cutting margins.

Black Friday has already become stretched to a “Black Friday Event”, sometimes lasting for more than a week. And the consumer magazine Which found that only one in 20 Black Friday deals were genuine. None of this is likely to help consumer confidence.

Perhaps it’s time to see the other side of that overplayed song — yes, Santa Claus is coming to town, but retailers had better watch out.

Main image credit: Getty

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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