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Two weeks in retail - 27th March

Shoppers were in a happier frame of mind at the weekend as those that hadn’t headed straight for lazing in the unseasonably hot weather scurried off for summerwear or garden centre goodies.

Retailers will have seen lower footfall as a result of the rush for the sun but the mad March heatwave has at least got shoppers thinking about their summer wardrobes and outdoor spaces which means early boosts to both sectors are likely.

And there have been other boosts too.

This month’s launch of the iPad 3 has delivered impressive sales rises – especially for the likes of John Lewis for which sales of the new gadget helped to boost technology sales by 53%.

But other retailers weren’t feeling quite so playful.

After weeks of speculation and last minute hopes of a sale Game finally collapsed into administration this week. Although it was always the most likely outcome the stock exchange announcement said it followed “ceaseless interrogation of every possible alternative” and it is certainly true that the retailer battled hard to avoid the fate which will see both the closure of 277 stores and over 2,000 redundancies.

The fortnight also saw the news that Sunday trading restrictions are to be relaxed over the period of the Olympic Games and whilst some retailers, such as The Entertainer which has never opened on a Sunday, have vowed to stick to the original trading laws other retailers – including Next boss Lord Simon Wolfson – are calling for the amendment to be made permanent. He claimed the relaxation in the laws over the period of the Games would deliver around £5million to £8 million extra sales.

The announcement was confirmed in the Budget which brought little surprises leaving the retail industry still reeling instead from the surprise departure of Tesco boss Richard Brasher – whose resignation was revealed mid March. Although the retail giant defended the departure as a strategic change that allowed Phil Clarke to take a more hands-on control of the business again the very nature of Brasher’s abrupt exit left many to conclude a boardroom bust-up had taken place.

Meanwhile the Office of National Statistics revealed its latest figures in the past fortnight. It said that the value of retail sales was up 3.2 per cent in February against the same month last year although volumes only rose by 1 per cent. More encouragingly however it also announced the lowest rate of CPI annual inflation since November 2010 as the rate fell to 3.4 per cent in February, down from 3.6 per cent the previous month.

RPI annual inflation meanwhile fell from 3.9 per cent to 3.7 per cent – a rate matched only in January and February last year.

With April now just around the corner and the good weather expected to hold for another week at least shoppers will at least be feeling a little brighter and more confident.

How that translates into their shopping habits however will become more apparent over the next few weeks.

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