Mild weather freezing sales, says BRC

Normally extreme weather is blamed for falling sales. Now November weather is also bad for business, it seems.

by Elizabeth Anderson
Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012
Figures from the British Retail Consortium show that retail sales grew just 0.7% in November, the weakest increase since May. Sales at stores open at least a year fell 1.6% compared to last November. The BRC said the poor figures were due to the mild weather, which has kept demand for winter clothing and footwear down.

But the weather is clearly not the only reason: consumers’ uncertainty over jobs and pay means shoppers aren’t getting into the Christmas spirit. ‘There's a worrying lack of cheer in these figures’, Stephen Robertson, BRC director general, said.

In the three months to November, food sales increased by 1.5% compared to the same time last year, but non-food items fell 2.1%, as the mild weather meant demand for coats, boots and scarves declined.

The downbeat update from the BRC will not come as a surprise to many. A string of retailers have reported falling sales this year, from New Look and Next to Dixons and Argos.  Many stores are struggling to persuade customers to part with their cash as inflation remains high and household budgets are squeezed. Two weeks ago outdoor retailer Blacks Leisure – owner of Millets and Blacks – issued its second profit warning in as many weeks. The company is now looking for a white knight. The 300-store retailer is suffering from rather more than a bout of mild weather.  

Still, it’s not doom and gloom for everyone. Sales at John Lewis grew almost 10% on last year, rising to £113.6m, and were up 15% from the week before. The department store chain is also optimistic about December trading, with sales director Nat Wakely telling the Financial Times that ‘In this economy, people wait for that last pay-cheque and then spend’.

But as the weather’s started to take a turn for the worse, does this mean a retail recovery is in sight? It’s unlikely. A deal to save the euro would do a lot more for retailers’ prospects than any change in the weather.

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