Final week push didn't save fashion's Christmas season says BDO tracker

A last-minute surge in high street shopping in the week leading up to Christmas wasn't enough to rescue December trading. That’s the message from the latest BDO UK high street sales tracker that was released on Friday.


Overall like-for-like high street sales dropped 2.3% last month – the fifth successive December to record negative sales growth. It’s yet another example of how the long-term trend is seeing Christmas shopping moving away from physical stores towards e-stores, and also how it has moved from December into November due to Black Friday markdown events.

BDO said fashion retailers “finished off a miserable year” with a sales drop of 3.8% for December – a fall that followed a 1.1% drop in the previous December.

At least homewares sales grew by 2.5% last month “as families splashed out to get ready for festivities,” but sales of lifestyle goods struggled to grow, rising only 0.3%. 

Weekly like-for-like sales growth also reinforced reports of that last-minute Christmas buying spree. All categories recorded year-on-year growth in the week that ended on Christmas Eve, after the first three weeks of the month were negative.

Helped by the extra day of shopping compared to 2016, sales of lifestyle and fashion goods both looked healthy in that final week, up 8.1% and 3.9% respectively.

And of course, online’s strength was clear too. Non-store sales peaked at a rise just short of 40% in the week to December 24. However, growth slowed noticeably in the following week (up just 6.4%). Despite widespread reports that the Boxing Day sales were fairly strong this year, the online discounts didn’t seem to be enough to drive sales significantly higher with two months of discounts apparently blunting Boxing Day’s edge online.

Sophie Michael, Head of Retail and Wholesale at BDO LLP said Christmas had been a question of priorities for consumers and with squeezed incomes, they had often chosen to put spend on food and drink, home comforts and trips out to restaurants and bars at the top of their priority lists.

“Consumer confidence is low, and shoppers have exercised extreme caution or shopped strategically online, rather than visiting bricks-and-mortar stores or making impulse purchases. As such retailers, and in particular fashion retailers, have felt a fall in footfall and consumer spend,” Michael said.

“Early reports indicate that post-Christmas sales are not particularly promising with Boxing Day expected to show the biggest decline in footfall since 2012. This will be of concern for those retailers who are struggling to find that crucial mix of product, price and in-store experience to attract the shrinking consumer purse.”

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