The local celebrity has flipped the switch and the Christmas lights have been turned on. The High Street is twinkling but are the tills ringing this Christmas?
We visited a selection of typical High Street retailers to see what they were offering to entice the customer into their stores this Christmas.
Fashion retailers have swiftly moved from Black Friday deals into pre-Christmas promotions that look remarkably like Sale. Clearly the weather will be the most used reason behind slow sales in the Christmas trading updates in January and with good reason. It has been exceptionally mild and retailers with heavy true winter stock need to clear it. If the weather man is right and we do get a white Christmas there will be some very happy customers out shopping.
In New Look we saw rail upon rail of jumpers and coats on sale with markdowns as deep as 50%. Heavy knits and long maxi fur collared coats are not very adaptable for warmer weather, nor are they very giftable. Being harsh, nor are they very fashion led. Hence the markdowns.
The Sale has been kicking off slightly earlier each year and this years feels earlier still. We are reading about many more fashion retailers going into sale this week so margins will be hit. Post Christmas will bring even deeper discounts and more stock being added but not enough to galvanise the customer to go shopping we fear, particularly if it stays mild.
There are a few exceptions. Everything in Fat Face could be bought as a gift. The brand has enough credibility and kudos to be giftable and the range has a winter wonderland feel to it. That said, the rails were well stocked and we do wonder how sales are against last year.
H&M is the other exception among our visits. In this case it is less about gifting and more about clarity of offer for a clearly defined customer at great prices.
The product is attractive and works trans-seasonally, it is on the whole easy to shop, and ‘gets’ its customer. Yes, there are gifting ranges but they could be carried forward as pure Christmas product was limited to tight ranges.
Next also have missed the boat we feel. Fashionability was lacking as was quality. It feels like the offer has been product engineered to deliver margin but at the expense of desirability and representing good value. We have been big supporters of Next: strong operations, confidence in its offer and promotional calendar but this year troubles us.
Away from fashion, most retailers have specifically bought Christmas gift ranges. WHSmith was notable in terms of its strong gadget and stationery gift offer at the front of the store.
Range and price architecture ticked all the boxes and was unique enough to encourage the customer to buy it there and then. However, the depth of buy was weak; once it was slightly shopped gaps were evident. This was not exclusively the case for gift ranges either. Depth seemed to have been sacrificed in favour of breadth but without the luxury of space to merchandise it effectively. In fact we defy you to find the right colouring book on the shelf.
The Christmas 3 for 2 gift offer at Boots was there again this year. A strong offer no doubt but at what point does the customer start to get bored of the standard beauty gift set? Yes it ticks a box but it is lazy, lazy for the customer and lazy for Boots. We must start to see something more innovative from Boots to bring the customer in. It it isn’t broken don’t fix it, sure, but be prepared for when it does break.
Wilko was also reliant on the beauty gift set and meets the need of a different demographic. They supplemented the offer with a nicely priced gadget offer which was well shopped early in the season. As was their Christmas decorations. Range gaps had not been filled leaving empty space not delivering a return.
Agile merchandising as ranges sell through is clearly not on the to-do list, and at this point in the season when there is still more than a week of shopping days to go, it is lazy store operations. On the other hand, FSDUs of tin foil baking trays and foil, aisle ends of greats value glasses, napkins and table mats was intelligent and was prompting add-on purchases in the store we visited.
In fashion, we will definitely see a mixed bag of results in January. Those that will have done well will be clear about the customer and have bought confidently with that customer in mind. They will have communicated the offer well and will have been agile in bringing ranges in front of the customer at key points in the calendar.
For general retailers the best will have bought clever and unusual gift ranges that stand well together but are not weather dependent. They will have been priced keenly for the demographic of the retailer and will offer a point of difference that makes the store destination. A product that could be picked up at Tesco and probably at a cheaper price will be sat on the shelf still in January.
Lazy ranging, lazy promotions, lazy store operations will cost the retailer dear.
For our review of department stores this Christmas go and read our blog. And watch out for our review of the supermarkets Christmas offers.