Multi-channel and last-minute rush save December sales

Late Christmas shoppers, bargain hunters and online sales provided the retail industry with a “major boost” in the final days of 2013 and helped keep December retail sales in the black, according to the latest figures from the British Retail Consortium (BRC).

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Stores reported marginal sales increase in December as multi-channel and a last minute rush help maintain growth, says the BRC.

Same store sales in December were up 0.4 per cent compared to a year ago while total sales, which include new stores, were up 1.8 per cent. For the 3-month period from October to November, like-for-like sales were up 0.6 per cent, with food down 0.6 per cent but non-food up 1.5 per cent.

Helen Dickinson, the BRC’s director general, says: “This is a respectable result overall, in line with our prediction that Christmas trading in 2013 would reflect that while confidence levels were higher than the previous year, this wasn’t always matched by more money in pockets.

“The last-minute rush also arrived as expected, giving a major boost to sales in the final few days before Christmas after a fairly flat showing mid-month.”

This Christmas in particular has been a tale of winners and losers in the retail space, with a number of companies posting record sales while rivals have fared less well. John Lewis, Ted Baker, Jigsaw and Next all posted market-beating like-for-like sales growth, while Debenhams and Mothercare have issued profit warnings and M&S saw sales at its general merchandise division drop by 2.1 per cent.

Neil Saunders, managing director of Conlumino, says described the BRC numbers as ”far from spectacular” but agreed with the BRC that they are “respectable”. He adds: “Moreover, given the month is by far the biggest one in the retail calendar the actual cash increase will be much more substantial than for an equivalent rise in other months. This underlines the point that the consumer is now more willing to spend as their confidence improves.”

Online provided a high point, with non-food online sales coming in at 19.2 per cent, the highest growth in four years. As in previous years, December proved particularly popular for online shopping as consumers turned to the convenience of the internet in the busy Christmas period.

Without online, the BRC estimates that total sales would have been flat with those retailers that invested in click and collect, fast deliveries and social media offers winning over Christmas. In total, online accounted for 18.6 per cent of non-food sales in December.

“The surge in the use of tablets and smartphones last year, together with the ever faster delivery times achieved by an increasing number of retailers, have provided a new spur of growth to online shopping,” says Dickinson.

A report from O2 forecasts that the positive impact of technology on shopping is only set to continue this year. The report estimates retailers that prioritise online and mobile could see a 7.8 per cent annual sales uplift in 2014. It also predicts that for a medium-sized retailer such as Mothercare, that could mean a sales boost of up to £66m annually. 

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