Magazine article Marketing

Helen Dickinson on Retail: We Wish You a Boring Christmas

Magazine article Marketing

Helen Dickinson on Retail: We Wish You a Boring Christmas

Article excerpt

December is all about traditions, whether it's the annual family get-together, boiled sprouts or charades on Christmas Day, and this column can be no different. I wouldn't dare let the festive month go by without considering the topic of the crucial Christmas retail trading period.

Every year, retailers face up to this busiest of shopping times with the usual mix of anticipation and anxiety. However, I get the impression that this year may not bring with it the usual roller coaster of emotions.

The simple explanation for this is that expectations this year must be lower than in any previous year. Sure, the papers are still full of commentary on whether this Christmas will be a retailing washout or the one that provides salvation for struggling high-street retailers. Somehow, though, I get the feeling that the retailers themselves will already know the truth. This year, very few retailers, if any, will have allowed themselves to be carried away by a wave of optimism that Christmas will turn their fortunes around.

That is what happened last year, though. After a couple of months of fading consumer confidence, the hope was that Christmas would turn it all around. It did not. Instead, retailers were left with excessive stock levels and panicked into snap sales and discount days, giving away valuable margin on every sale they made.

Retailers won't be thinking along those lines again this year. The monthly British Retail Consortium-KPMG Retail Sales Monitor shows that eight of the first 11 months of 2005 recorded negative like-for-like sales. That is not an encouraging environment in which to have to do business, but at least it has had the unexpected bonus of releasing retailers from the burden of festive expectation.

Accordingly, many have not built up unrealistic stock levels in anticipation of a rush which will not come. Fewer retailers have been forced into early sale announcements this year.

There are, of course, interesting aspects that emerge from every Christmas shopping period. This time, the internet is again to the fore. Many commentators firmly believe that this year will see a huge leap in terms of online retail performance.

However, it is important to bear in mind that for many online retailers, the festive trading period ends in mid-December. After that - on the whole - online retailers cannot guarantee delivery fulfilment, so once we get down to the last fortnight before Christmas, it is normally a straight fight between bricks-and-mortar retailers for those final purchases. …

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