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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Sales rise amidst the credit crunch

19 12 2008
Oxford Street, London

Oxford Street, London

According to figures released by the Office of National Statistics (ONS), the volume of sales between September and November rose by 0.5% as compared to the three months before it. This may not sound good, but compared to all the doom and gloom and the difficulty of obtaining credit, it does sound good. Also, the value of weekly sales in November were 2.9% higher than in November last year.

However, the high street retailers beg to differ with the figures. The British Retail Consortium (BRC) said that the figures released by the ONS were optimistic and painted a “rosy picture” of the current difficulties. According to BRC’s own findings, the sales value actually fell by 0.4%. Experian reported that the footfall (the amount of traffic generated by shoppers visiting the stores) in stores for the first three days of the week had decreased by 11.5% compared to last year.

It seems hard to believe that the increase in the volume in sales could have lead to a increase in the value of sales. After all, the increase in the volume of sales is largely due to a wave of heavy discounting by the high street retailers, especially after Woolworths slashed its prices to get rid of its stock. It is likely that the spectacular and well-publicised offers by retailers would have made some reluctant consumers go out and spend. It is also equally likely that many who generally would have waited for Boxing Day sales have instead done their shopping before Christmas since they feel that the discounts offer good value for money. After all, there is a limit to the amount of discounts that the retailers can offer before it starts eroding their profits. So many consumers may feel that the discounts are as good as they are going to get. If this is true, what would happen is that the average amount of sales during the Christmas period hasn’t really increased, but the shopping has been concentrated to a few weeks before Christmas.

The reason for this difference in figures, according to Reuters, is that the figures of “the ONS figures capture internet shopping more fully”. According to the ONS, the value of online sales was £220 million in November and it accounted for 3.8% of the total retail revenues. According to Experian, its company Hitwise which is an online competitive intelligence service, found that the websites of high street retailers had 22% more visits than its internet-only rivals. This could explain why the sales have increased even though the number of shoppers visiting the stores seem to have decreased.

Many shoppers percieve the prices of online retailers to be cheaper than their high street counterparts. And this has been shown to be true in most cases. After all, they do not have to worry about expensive overhead costs like rent and sales staff. However, many shops on the high street nowadays allow their customers to haggle and bag bargains, and this is not available to online shoppers.

It would be interesting to see the figures of  the overall retail sales before and after Christmas since that would allow us to see the whole picture.
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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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Drop in oil prices, but don’t be happy just yet.

27 10 2008

Prices of crude oil dropped from a peak of $147 a barrel in July to below $60 a barrel today. This drop in oil prices has sparked off a price war between, you guessed it, UK’s top four supermarkets-Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons. After trying to fill up cash strapped consumer’s shopping carts, they are now trying to fill up their cars. Prices of unleaded petrol fell to just under £1 per litre. The recent fall in the prices is due to the fear that the sharp increase in prices is likely to lead to a fall in demand and hence a fall in revenue.

However, this drop in prices is likely to be short lived. This is because OPEC (Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries), a cartel of oil producing nations, announced in the wake of the recent drop in prices that they would cut the production of oil by 1.5 million barrels a day by next month since they fear that their revenue will decrease because of the drop in oil prices. This, they hope, will lead to a decrease in supply and since the demand of petrol is likely to go up due to the decrease in prices, it will ultimately lead to an increase in the price of oil, which some experts estimate to be around $80 to $100 per barrel.


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Although it is immoral and unethical, the oil producing nations, in a way, have made a smart move by coming together and working for a common interest, i.e., to make as much money as possible, rather than against each other. Working together ensures that they can control the amount of supply of oil and hence also the price we pay. Oil is by all means almost a necessity which means that the demand is price inelastic; this means that the change in price does not have a huge impact on the level of demand. People still have to fill up their cars to go from A to B, transportation firms still have to fill up their trucks to transport goods and so do buses, trains and airplanes. Also, petrol and diesel have no real alternatives.

However, in a recession, demand is likely to be price elastic, which means that demand is sensitive to the price. So, the move to cut production may lead to a fall in supply, but the increase in prices might also lead to a fall in demand, which would give counterproductive results to what OPEC hope.

Cartels formed by companies are against the law, otherwise we would not have competitive prices and certainly no price wars between supermarkets since they would be busy colluding with each other and fixing prices.


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The value of Pound (£) has been falling against the Dollar ($). The benefit of this is that it makes UK businesses very competitive in foreign markets and allows them to import their goods at a competitive price. The flip side of this is that it increases the cost of importing raw materials of which oil is a part. It is likely that even this will increase the price of petrol and diesel we pay at the fuel station.

So, there is no reason to be happy about the drop in fuel prices since it is only temporary and more of a Christmas offer than a real deal.





Domino’s sales rise as take-outs become popular

1 10 2008

The credit crunch has meant that eating out is beginning to become a costly affair for most families and so they prefer to stay at home. However, rather than cooking a meal, most are beginning to order take-outs. Domino’s Pizza’s chief executive Chris Moore said that it was benefiting from this trend as the sales for the last 13 weeks had increased by 17.8%.

Supermarkets are doing their bit to attract customers by offering huge discounts and BOGOF offers on ready meals which only has to be re-heated before eating. However, Moore believes that this would not affect Domino’s sales since people do not want to go through the hassle of having to buy the product and re-heat it when ordering in takes roughly a half-hour only. Seems like many still prefer convenience than saving money.





Tesco’s first half profit up 11%.

30 09 2008

Supermarket giant Tesco today announced a 11% rise in its half-year pre-tax profits which rose to £1.44 billion from £1.29 billion last year with sales rising 13% to £25.6 billion. Like-for-like sales grew by about 7% which seems very good especially since consumers are cutting back on their spending and discount retailers like Aldi, Lidl, Netto, Iceland, Wilkinsons, etc. are attracting customers from large supermarkets.

It was reported earlier this month that Tesco’s market share had decreased by 0.2% to 31.5%. However, it still has a much greater market share when compared to stores such as Aldi which has 2.9% market share which allows Tesco to benefit from economies of scale. This means it can buy its stock in relatively large numbers at lower cost which would normally allow it to increase its profit margin, but in the current financial situation, it allows Tesco to reduce its prices thereby attracting shoppers looking to reduce their grocery bills.

Tesco introduced a new discount range of about 400 products aptly named “Discount Range” with the aim to compete with discount stores and offer customers value for money. Tesco’s chief executive Sir Terry Laehy claimed that sales of its discount range was rising faster than that of Aldi or Lidl.





Food prices rise by 8.3%

6 09 2008

It was reported this week by the BBC that food prices have risen by 8.3% since January this year. This is based on the figures from a survey carried out by Verdict Research specifically for the BBC.

A packet of ham, a pack of four croissants and a medium sized chicken were among the seven products whose individual prices had risen by more then 40%. Among the 13 categories into which all the products were classified, Meat and Fish rose the highest, by 22.9%, followed by Store-cupboard items and Fresh Fruits and Vegetables which rose by 15% & 14.7% respectively.

Inflation is also affecting the sales of organic produce which fell by 8.1% as compared to last year according to the analysts TNS. Families with low income are unable to afford the high price of organic produce and more people are increasingly switching to buying supermarket own-brand products.

Supermarket Sainsbury’s believes that most people no longer perceive supermarket own-brand products in a negative manner nor are they embarrassed of buying them and are beginning shift to buying own-brand products to help cuts their costs. According to Marketing Week, Sainsbury’s research showed that a minority of the people believed that the brand they bought reflected on them as a person. To make the most of the current situation, Sainsbury’s launched an ad campaign on the 5th of September called “Switch & Save” to encourage their customers to buy the supermarket’s own-brand products. The link to watch the new Sainsbury’s advertisement is given below.

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http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/7597703.stm

http://www.marketingweek.co.uk/cgi-bin/item.cgi?id=62302&d=254&h=5&f=3

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6u-P9C2obec