The Christmas high street sales figures are out and… leave something to be desired once again, although all hope is certainly not lost. Compared like-for-like with December 2011, there was actually a rise in sales of 1.9%, however, as both retailers and consumers applied different strategies to the festive shopping period.
In 2010, online retail giants such as Amazon came under criticism and lost sales following a period of extreme bad weather which caused thousands of Christmas presents bought online to be delivered late. Even items bought at the start of December were arriving post-festivities, leaving many customers irate and untrusting of the online market. Consequently, in 2011, high street retailers prepared by buying in extra stock, which then didn’t shift, leading them to slash prices and severely cut into their profit margins.
2012, on the other hand, proved to demonstrate something of a more cautious approach. The build-up to Christmas was slow and steady, with a late surge expected and received over the final weekend before Christmas Day. This saw a 22% increase in sales compared to the same week in 2011.
The best sellers were in the non-fashion category, which rose up steadily and consistently over its competitors by 7.1% compared to 2011, and the final two weeks of the period also saw a positive push through gift purchasing and discounting. Fashion retailers which had focused on and carefully planned their strategy (including retail design, branding and advertising) for the festive period did still see growth, however.
By far the biggest change in 2012 though, was the increase in multichannel retail strategies, thanks to improved availability and coverage of Wi-Fi and 4G. This meant that customers could shop easily from their mobile phones, tablets and computers, while retailers increased confidence in online shopping following the 2010 debacle by offering services such as click-and-collect and ‘guaranteed’ next-day delivery. Consequently, non-store sales increased by 30.9% on the year before, particularly as many customers rushed to take advantage of sales starting online on Christmas Eve, unlike the stores which started on Boxing Day. Even so, Boxing Day also saw an increase in online sales figures – 17% higher than 2011.
Certain stores, such as the new Marks and Spencers flagship store in Ellesmere Port, Cheshire, even offered multi channel retailing from the store itself, with staff equipped with iPads to help customers quickly and easily order out-of-stock items, and giant tablets placed around the store for customers to access themselves.
As the prevalence of 4G can only be expected to increase across 2013, so too can we expect the levels of online sales to rise, as customers become increasingly confident in using mobile and computer shopping options, including for clothes and fashion shopping. For the big retailers to survive in this new kind of marketplace, which offers customers simplicity, speed and a hassle-free experience, they must start or continue to develop their online presence, investing in mobile applications or mobile-optimised sites and a quality and efficient delivery and returns service for online goods.