The bitterly cold wind and intermittent bouts of snow have resulted in a month of depressed sales on Britain’s high streets with shopper numbers for the first three weeks of December down 10% on 2009.
Shoppers were expected to spend £37bn during December in a last hurrah before austerity measures bite in 2011 snow, ice, rain, sleet and sub-zero temperatures have made it difficult to get to shops.
Richard Hyman, strategic retail adviser at Deloitte, said a "massive amount of shopping could be crammed into the next few days", but he put the sales shortfall to date at between £500m and £750m.
On Saturday, the wintery conditions and a city centre demonstration by UK Uncut in Brighton & Hove put a huge dent in retail takings during what is traditionally the biggest sales weekend of the year.
With fewer shoppers, retailers will now be facing the prospect of having more stock left than they had anticipated. Some are likely to slash prices in a bid to clear it, while others will be pushing far more stock into the January sales – both courses of action will hit their profit margins. The increase in VAT to 20% on January 4th will not help.
The grim tidings from the high street have started to worry the stock market. Some of the UK's best known chains, including HMV, Dixons and Game – which all make the lion's share of their profits at Christmas – were among this week’s largest losers on the stock exchange. Concerns about the health of the retail sector also hit Tesco, Marks & Spencer and Next, but they are well equipped to ride out the winter storm.
The big freeze has forced many consumers online, but many e-retailers have not been able to offset poor shop sales with increased internet orders as they have had to bring forward order cut-off dates as they try to clear the backlog created by earlier snowfalls. Amazon stopped promising delivery by Christmas on 18th December.
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