Blackfriar: Retailers battle floods, Brexit and a General Election

Bonmarche caters for fashion conscious women over 50
Bonmarche caters for fashion conscious women over 50
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Retailers are desperate for some good news following the collapse of Bonmarche and Mothercare and worrying news that Clintons Cards is set to close one in five shops amid fears it is on the brink of collapse.

Unfortunately it looks like October was a wash out for the sector. Heavy rainfall has hit autumn retail sales as shoppers stay indoors rather than brave wet and wintry weather, which has led to widespread flooding in parts of Yorkshire.

The British Retail Consortium said footfall fell 3.2 per cent year on year in October, which was steeper than September and both the 3-month and 12-month averages.

On the high street, footfall saw a far steeper rate of decline than September, at 4.9 per cent.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the BRC, said high streets were hit hardest in October, with the wet and wintry weather putting off many consumers from venturing out to the shops.

Bearing in mind retailers have also been hit by weak consumer demand, Brexit uncertainty and General Election dramas, it is surprising that more firms haven’t gone bust.

Retail park footfall declined for the first time in five months, down 0.5 per cent, and shopping centre footfall declined by 2.4 per cent in October, which was a slight improvement on the 3-month average of 2.6 per cent.

Ms Dickinson said retailers will be hoping footfall will pick up as they enter the all-important golden quarter.

Diane Wehrle, Springboard’s marketing and insights director, said the drop in footfall of minus 3.2 per cent was the worst result for October in seven years.

She said the prevailing political uncertainty must be having a considerable impact on activity given the low level of consumer confidence.

She said when confidence is low, it doesn’t take much to deter shoppers and the torrential rain in the last week of the month hit footfall particularly hard, resulting in a drop over those seven days of 6.2 per cent.

By far the worst result came from high streets where footfall declined by 7.4 per cent, which is not unexpected given their exposure to the elements.

In four areas (North & Yorkshire, Greater London, the South East and Wales) the drop was in excess of 5 per cent.

So what can retailers expect in the run up to Christmas?

Most are mighty relieved to have avoided the Brexit deadline of October 31 and there is some good news in the sector. Research by Hargreaves Lansdown shows that consumers expect to spend an average of £660 this Christmas – up from £538 last year.

Hargreaves Lansdown said the average person will spend £660 on Christmas, of which £326 is on presents, £146 on food and drink, £121 on going out, and £67 on extras like decorations and festive outfits. So retailers will benefit from the vast majority of the additional expenditure.

Mothercare and Bonmarche are the latest in a long run of retailers to fall into administration in these turbulent times.

House of Fraser, Debenhams, Karen Millen and Coast have all gone into administration over the past two years. Other retailers such as Marks & Spencer have closed stores, often leading to a further slump in high street spending as towns have lost their key M&S store.

It appears that shoppers are holding back on unessential spending until the Brexit fog clears. On top of this, the slump in the pound has raised the cost of imports.

A General Election in the run-up to Christmas will do nothing to help the hard hit high street.