The results of the latest British Independent Retailers Association (bira) quarterly sales monitor show that members reported a year-on-year gain of 0.68%.
Bira deputy ceo Michael Weedon described the figure for the fourth quarter as “not a huge uplift, but the second in a row and impressive when you consider that shop prices have been falling for nearly two years”. He said small shops outdid the market in the crucial final three months of 2014 – just. BRC-KPMG statistics showed overall like-for-like trading over the quarter effectively flat at 0.1% while bira members reported a mini-bump of 0.68%, slightly improving on the 0.61% rise in the preceding quarter and providing the third quarter of growth in 2014. “Given that shop prices are falling this must be counted as a sound result,” he noted.
None of that will be of any consolation, he added, to the 44% of survey respondents who reported lower sales as, on average, their lower results together nearly wiped out the gains of the slender majority. Department stores performed strongly, as did furniture, floorcovering and bed vendors. Glass, gifts and cards showed growth greater than 1% year-on-year. DIY and hardware completed five straight quarters of increases while garden and garden tools registered a seventh. Cookshops and housewares suffered a third quarter of decline in a row. Many members reported that the season was saved by last minute buying at Christmas.
The bira Confidence Index (Anxiety Index in bad times) saw a near doubling of those describing themselves as “Very confident” to 7.74%, gaining from those who had been merely “Reasonably confident” before and the “Anxious” dropped very slightly from 38.55% to 38.07%. “Money in the till tends to drive optimism and our Confidence/Anxiety index saw a tiny improvement at the bad end of the scale and a healthy movement towards high confidence at the happy end,” Michael Weedon said.
Comments from survey respondents included this statement from a south-west cookshop and housewares retailer: “We have suffered the worst trading period since we began. November was particularly bad; Christmas was very late but not too bad.” The retailer cited lack of footfall, low spends and internet shopping – particularly click and collect – as issues but added: “Parking was not a problem due to lack of cars!”
A Midlands cookshop and housewares retailer disclosed that: “Things are still nervous and suppliers continue to target consumers directly, thereby making it more difficult for retailers.” Meanwhile another south-west cookshop and housewares retailer shared their thoughts: “Last year started badly and slowly recovered through the year. December sales were +4% year-on-year.” Finally, a north-west cookshop and housewares retailer revealed that: “December was the only month “cookshop” sales held its own compared to last year. Two-thirds of our sales now come from deli sales including sandwiches and so on, which we started in September 2014.”