High Street Blues

23 12 2008

BRITAIN-BUSINESS-RETAIL-SALESThe trading that occurs in the run up to Christmas is very crucial to retailers even in the “normal” years. It allows them to make up for the losses they might have incurred over the year and helps them prepare financially for the coming year. 2008 has been, by any standards, anything but a normal year. Huge banks have become small banks, some have been swallowed up by bigger banks, some have merged with other banks while some have disappeared altogether.

Little surprise then that the past few weeks have been really tense for the retailers. The number of shoppers visiting the shops have decreased. As a result, retailers have been forced to cut their prices to attract shoppers. According to Experian, the number of shoppers during the weekend, the last weekend before Christmas, was down by 8.7% as compared to last year. However, the number of shoppers yesterday were up 13.6% as compared to the same Monday last year.

It’s a bit unfair to compare the two corresponding Mondays because last year the Monday was Christmas Eve. The kind of shoppers who go shopping on Christmas Eve are generally those looking for food items or ingredients for their Christmas dinner, last minute shoppers or those looking for last minute bargains.

Even though the number of shoppers increased, it still remains to be seen how much revenue that translates into. The main reason why more consumers went out to shop perhaps has a lot to do with a last minute heavy discounts by retailers in desperate attempt to attract shoppers. According to the accountants Ernst & Young, the average discounts were 40%, up from 38% last year. It means that even though people had more shopping bags in their hands, the retailers wouldn’t have made a lot of money from that.

Although the high street is seeing a decline in the number of shoppers, according to Hitwise, the number of people visiting the websites of high street retailers has increased. Between Dec 18 and Dec 21, traffic to online retailers(including internet-only and high street) increased by 2.2% on average as compared to last year. Websites of high street retailers saw their traffic increase by 2.7% on Saturday and 5.9% on Sunday as compared to last year.

When it comes to prices, mostly the online retailers clearly have an advantage over their high street rivals. But their biggest drawback is that the items have to ordered before a certain date to ensure that they are delivered in time for Christmas. On the other hand, the websites of high retailers allow the shoppers to book their products online and pick them up instore. It may not be cheaper than the internet-only retailers, but it certainly is more convenient. One of the put-offs of shopping on the high street before Christmas is clearly having to navigate through crowded streets and aisles holding your shopping bags. It is also very hard to compare prices across different retailers and browse the items leisurely.

The rise in the number of shoppers will definately be of some relief to retailers. But it will by no means make up for the dismal sales and revenues they have generated over the past few weeks. Woolworths and MFI have gone bankrupt and Whittard of Chelsea is said to be on the brink of administration. And it is clear that more will have the same fate in the new year, what remains to be seen is who they will be.

Business Easy

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Cool to be Frugal

12 12 2008

piggy-bankAccording to Andy Bond, the Chief Executive of ASDA, its now becoming cool to be frugal and not so cool to be frivolous and wasteful. He feels that consumer’s shopping habits are changing and a new generation of shoppers who are thrifty are emerging as the credit crunch begins to bite even further.

So what does this really mean? It means that consumers will now focus more on products that offer them value for money and will aim to eliminate waste. Value for money doesn’t really mean something that is priced less or discounted. It is actually something that offers satisfaction and quality for its price. Consumers will increasingly try to differentiate their “needs” from their “wants” and think carefully if they really need something or do they just want it. For example, ASDA noted that consumers are beginning to shift from buying ready meals to buying ingredients and cooking at home. People are also beginning to mend or fix items rather than getting rid of them and buying new ones. Cobblers, for example, have seen their business increase since consumers are coming in to get their shoes mended rather than splashing out on a new pair. A quick search on Google Trends showed that visits to the comparison site moneysupermarket.com and myvouchercodes.co.uk which lists voucher codes across a variety of stores had more than doubled.

What’s really interesting is the 40% increase in the number of people who are ignoring best-before dates and consuming the product rather than throwing it in the bin once it is past its sell by date. Perhaps the increase has also something to do with the numerous reports on saving money on television featuring people who regularly consume food, as long as it looks fit, well past the best before date. Consumers are also freezing leftover food rather than wasting it and sales of bottled water and smoothies has also been said to have decreased since many are opting to fill tap water and eat fresh fruit instead.

It is important then that retailers spot this trend and adjust their business models accordingly in order to survive the downturn. Thrifty consumers would focus on long term value and would be willing to spend a little bit extra on an item that is likely to last longer than buy something cheaper in price which would also be cheaper in quality and hence not last as long. Rather than reducing prices on cheap Christmas stocking fillers that perhaps wont even last till next Christmas, retailers should instead focus on reducing prices on items that actually are of some use to the consumers. Also, thrifty consumers are less likely to buy items on impulse which retailers greatly depend on. So, businesses should make sure that they are really operating on a low cost model which aims to eliminate waste as that would be the only way that they would be able to offer low prices and good service at the same time.

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Retailers embrace VAT cut

2 12 2008

The cut in the VAT announced last week by the Chancellor initially didn’t receive the reception that he might have been perhaps hoping for. News reports, newspapers and websites were filled with comments against the idea of the VAT cut, some being funny, and some downright ironic. Most were along the lines of “10p saving! Whoopee!”

However, over the weekend, it looks like many retailers are whole-heartedly embracing the VAT cut. Not because they like to go through the trouble of having to change the prices and labels and the IT systems. But because it gives them another reason to slash their prices, much more than the 2.5% VAT cut. But, why do they need a something like a VAT cut to give them a reason to slash prices? Surely, they can do it without that.

Yes they can. And many, like M&S and Debenhams, did a fortnight ago when they had a one-day only “spectacular” sale. Having yet another “spectacular” sale nearly three weeks before Christmas would give the impression that they have a lot of left over stock which they are desperate to sell. Although many shoppers would flock the stores to bag the bargains, which many have been doing due to the ongoing sales, many would stand back and wait for the prices to drop even further – a clear sign of deflation.

Hence, the cut in VAT, although not significant on its own, has provided the retailers with a timely reason to slash their prices further, using the VAT cut as a “mask” for doing so. Some companies, however, like BT and Virgin Media have decided to pass only the 2.5% cut to their customers.

But, how do single price retailers like Poundland, 99p Stores, or numerous other independent single price retailers pass on the VAT cut to their customers? After the VAT cut, an item costing £1 would then cost:
117.5% = 100p (The VAT is already added to the final selling price)
1% = 0.85p
115% = 97.87p (new price)
Poundland wouldn’t be able to rename itself as 97pLand for a period of 13 months, and the slogan “Everything’s £1” would then be deemed misleading. The only other option is for such businesses to increase their profit margins, which is not a bad thing, but they cannot take the advantage of being able to advertise the fact that they are passing on the VAT cut to their customers. Or, they could sell products that they wouldn’t have been able to in the past, as it would’ve been priced above £1, but can now since the cut in VAT allows the price to be £1.





Boom for Discount Stores

25 06 2008

According to recent figures, discount stores Aldi and Lidl have recorded sales growth of 20% and 14.9% respectively on a like-for-like basis. Even Iceland, which specialises in frozen food, has had a growth of 15.2%. Now this may not look that significant, unless you compare it to the growth reported by the established supermarkets-Tesco, Sainsbury, Asda and Morrisons-which reported a growth of 6.3%, 4.3%, 7.9% and 10.2% respectively.

Read more at:

http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/industry_sectors/retailing/article4208031.ece