Online drives December sales

Modest sales growth in December was driven by online as retailers invested in multichannel services such as click and collect, according to the latest figures from the British Retail Consortium.

Shoppers on Oxford Street in December.
London’s Oxford Street VIP shopping day in December attracted shoppers.

Same store sales in December were up just 0.3 per cent compared to a year ago and total sales, which include new stores, increased 1.5 per cent. If online sales are stripped out of the growth figures, however, growth is just below 0, according to Helen Dickinson, the newly appointed director general of the BRC.

Online sales increased 17.8 per cent year on year in December, the fastest growth since December 2011, which the BRC says demonstrates the growing importance of online in December sales. Growth of online sales slowed during 2012, but picked up again in the final month of the year as shoppers turned to the convenience of online shopping in the busy Christmas period.

The peak week for online sales remained the first week in December, but continued longer than in previous years as consumers’ confidence in delivery and online fulfilment improved thanks to investment in multichannel, says the retail body.

The figures were “not a cause for celebration, but not a disaster either,” according to Dickinson.

Speaking to Marketing Week at the presentation of the results, Dickinson says retailers must maintain a clear and consistent marketing message to succeed in 2013.

She says: “It’s less about what you communicate than it is about the clarity of the message. One thing is about being really clear about what it is you stand for and are offering and another is about how to ensure consistency across different channels. The complexity of how you go about communicating with people that are interacting with you in different ways is challenging and we will continue to see that evolve.”

Early sales activity launched by many retailers gave a much-needed boost towards the end of the month and without that, the sector would not have seen the modest growth recorded in December, says Dickinson.

In line with the BRC’s analysis of December trading, Debenhams has today (7 January) reported a 5 per cent rise in sales over Christmas, which it says was boosted by heavy discounting over the festive period.

Dickinson says: “The level of growth is effectively flat. Sales growth is not going anywhere and there’s no indication we’ll see any underlying change in 2013. It’s a sheer endurance test of a marginal growth environment making it very difficult for retailers. It feels like they’re running fast just to stand still.”

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