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What can we learn from Christmas sales figures?

More big name retailers released their Christmas profits yesterday, providing further insight into shopper behaviour at the end of 2022. Both Tesco and M&S saw profits shoot up, but online retailer Asos had more disappointing results. Here’s what we know about the Christmas trading period so far…

Supermarket giants saw big profits throughout the Christmas period. Discount chain Aldi had a massive 26% increase in sales through December, closely followed by Lidl with an increase of 24.5%. Although some of these profits will be due to expansion of stores – unlike other supermarkets, neither chain publishes year on year figures – it is clear that customers prioritised value above brand loyalty, with Lidl alone recording an additional 1.3 million customers during the festive seasons.

Other supermarkets still did well, with Tesco, Sainsbury’s and M&S all reporting around year on year growth of just over 7%. More shoppers headed in-store than in the year before, partially due to 2022’s omicron worries, but also preferring to look for lower prices in person. Value ranges did well across all three stores, with M&S’ new ‘Remarksable value‘ range hitting 20% of shoppers’ baskets. Going forward, supermarket chains look to be prioritising their own-brand labels as customers grow increasingly more careful with their money after a year of inflated prices.

An unlikely friend to supermarkets was the RMT, with train and tube strikes discouraging travel and instead leaving them to eat and drink at home.

High street fashion retailers exceeded previous expectations, with postal strikes urging people back into brick and mortar stores for reliability. After two festive seasons overshadowed by Covid-19, shops look to be recovering well, albeit still struggling to match their pre-pandemic footfall levels. Fashion retailer Next increased its profit outlook after exceeding previous expectations and growing by 4.8%. Similarly, JD Sports had particularly strong results with a growth of 20% over the last 6 weeks of 2022. Both stores attribute some of the profit increases to issues within the supply chain the previous year, which meant this Christmas saw far more availability of stock and large sales lines.

Outside of fashion, Boots found incredible success both in-store and online. StoreBoost data recorded an increase of footfall of 18% on the lead-up to Christmas in Westfield Stratford. Just like the supermarkets, Boots saw their own brand range soar in popularity, growing by 35%. Some of Boot’s success may be attributed to their Christmas marketing campaign, which sought to reach 99% of UK adults across its media plan.

Online-only retailers have had far less success. Asos saw a 3% decline over a ‘volatile’ Christmas. N Brown, owner of Simply Be, Jacamo and JD Williams also fell by 5.9% year on year. Delivery disruptions created much earlier cut-off dates for guaranteed deliveries in time for Christmas, and instead shoppers turned to the high street, leaving online sales struggling. In contrast, Very managed to increase sales by 2.2%, but still with a 6.6% decline in fashion and sports. Online retailers saw a massive boom through the pandemic, and so a fluctuation in sales may be a natural part of falling back into a sense of normality.

Although most figures seemed to exceed expectations, the outlook is still unsure. Inflation rises could account for a large part of profit increases, with volumes of sales at both Tesco and Sainsbury’s actually falling. On top of this, the period that these numbers are being compared to was far from settled – 2021 was still severely feeling the effects of Covid, and as such provides a rather easy baseline to grow from.

2023 will be a year of customers hunting for value whilst stores battle higher and higher costs. The ONS found 20% of businesses say their main concern going forward is energy prices, followed by the inflation of goods and services at 16%. On top of this, more than a quarter of businesses are struggling with a shortage of workers, with Halford’s cutting profit projections due to lingering staff shortages. All retailers are sure to be looking forward with a great degree of caution – good Christmas figures are a great sign, but the rest of the year is sure to be more unpredictable.

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