Weather gets the credit as retail sales rise again

It might not have been a barbecue July, but at least the rain boosted DIY and furniture sales.

Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012

Retailers are usually quick to blame the bad weather when sales slump. So how do they explain the fact that retail sales actually rose nearly 4% last month, despite it being the fourth-wettest July on record? Well, apparently that’s down to the weather too. The British Retail Consortium reports that the rain encouraged more of us to stay indoors and do some decorating, boosting sales of furniture and homewares. Apart from demonstrating that retailers always blame the weather, regardless of whether sales are up or down, does this also suggest confidence is starting to trickle back?

The BRC said overall sales were up 3.6%, or 1.8% on a like-for-like basis – a slight improvement on the previous month’s increase, despite the dismal weather. Director-general Stephen Robertson said the back end of the June heatwave got things off to a good start, but the onset of the rain ‘turned attention indoors’, helping sales of furniture and floor coverings hit their highest level in over three years (since May 2006). Robbed of the opportunity to have that barbecue the Met Office promised us, and possibly too skint to go on holiday (hence the ‘stay-cation’) we’ve clearly been opting to fit a few parquet floors instead. The return of some confidence to the housing market has clearly fuelled that trend.

Of course the bad weather hasn’t been good news for everyone. Take Greggs, the cheap and cheerful bakery that until now has been a big recession winner. Apparently its sales have been flatter than one of its cheese and onion slices over the last six weeks; CEO Ken McMeikan suggested that when the weather’s bad, people don’t go out shopping and thus don’t pop into Greggs for a sausage roll. Perhaps he needs to open some more stores near DIY shops? (though since his sales are actually up over the year, and 6m people are now eating there every week, he’s probably not too worried).

But it reminds us that we shouldn’t get too carried away. One reason for this jump in sales was that retailers have started their summer sales early, to keep us shopping – Robertson said discounting was at the kind of levels normally seen at Christmas, which may mean shoppers just brought forward purchases they’d normally make later in the year (and of course means retailers are operating on wafer-thin margins). What's more, last July’s figures were weak, so the benchmark wasn’t high. And with unemployment set to keep rising for a while yet, the chances of consumer spending continuing to creep up look pretty slim...

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