Independent retailers across the UK are going the extra mile to draw in cautious customers in the build-up to a “tough and lean” peak trading season.
The optimism of UK businesses reached its lowest level since 2012 last month, falling by 0.67 points to 95.59, consultancy BDO reported this week.
“In the run-up to Christmas I feel that it will be a very lean one,” said Nick Mavrides, owner of Ace Sports in London’s Kentish Town.
“Customers are [currently] cautious and very price conscious, and Brexit has had a negative effect on spending generally. On top of the general election looming on 12 December, this is going to be a very tough Christmas trading year.”
Samantha Pritchard, director of children’s shoe store It’s Feet First in Shrewsbury, Shropshire, agreed: “Over the last 10 years Christmas trade has slowly declined every year. Spending is still really on the cautious side, as a result of a lot of uncertainty surrounding the government and Brexit.
“It could be make or break for a lot of businesses heading into the golden quarter.”
Several independents said they will wait to see what online and multiple retailers do before deciding whether to go on Sale this year.
Darren Hoggett, owner of J&B Menswear in Norwich, said: “I think the Christmas season will be absolute carnage, with retail verging on the state of collapse as it still struggles to adapt to the continual lower levels of footfall and changing shopping habits.
“Discounting will be likely to be the worst on record, with some of the big players becoming even more desperate than before. That may force the hand of independents to follow suit.
“Retail now pins too much hope on Christmas sales, which can often lead to a Christmas Turkey rather than a golden goose.”
Others told Drapers they will have to go the extra mile this year to tempt in cautious shoppers and survive the season.
“It has undeniably been a challenging year but, when it’s tough, planning becomes more important,” said Vanessa Hodgson, founder of Collen & Clare, which has two stores in Suffolk.
“We are working together with other local independents to encourage shopping in our towns, we are supporting Christmas fairs and adopting a ‘green, recycled decorative scheme’, but above all it is customer service people are looking for.”
Michele Poynter, owner of Cornish lingerie retailer Mish, is also investing in service: “I think it’s going to be tough and there are lots of grumblings of consumers being cautious. However, we are going to hold VIP evenings with prosecco and late-night shopping coinciding with the other retailers. We will keep plugging away to remind customers we’re here.”
Debbie McDermott, manager of Velvet Exclusive Ladieswear in Ramsbottom, Bury, said she had already begun the peak trading countdown: “Last week we ran a ‘20% off Christmas spectacular’ to drive sales. We included all our brands and launched our Christmas windows to coincide with our offers. We are planning to do a ‘Christmas countdown’ focusing on specific brand offers every day throughout December.”
However, Emma Limn, digital marketing and ecommerce assistant at Roo’s Beach in Newquay, said products will stay at full-price until Boxing Day: “We won’t be doing a big Sale for Black Friday, as we want people to spend now and not hold off until December. For us, there’s no need to follow this American-led trend – people will be out shopping or online anyway, and we’ve always done really well sticking to our guns in the lead-up to Christmas.”