Mild Christmas Hampered High Street Sales, says BRC

Mild weather during December hindered high street sales as shoppers held back from festive purchases and buying winter items, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) said.

Fashion retailers especially had struggled last year, the BRC said, with consumers reluctant to buy items such as coat and boots, due to the unseasonably warm weather in the run up to Christmas.

"Last year we saw snow at the beginning of December, which is supposed to be bad for sales but in fact, it meant that many shoppers started to feel festive early and hit the shops,"

said BRC spokeswoman Sarah Cordey.

This year, people "just hadn’t felt Christmassy" until late in the month, she said, which had suppressed sales.

Heavy discounting and promotions among retailers had also failed to bring out the crowds, she added, although footfall picked up sharply in the week before Christmas.

"The big question is whether this will be enough to make up for a weak start and the serious discounting that we’ve seen," said Cordey.

The BRC’s retail sales monitor, which comes out on 10 January, is expected to reveal that this year’s festive trading conditions have been tough for most high street operators.

However, many smaller retailers had "done quite well", according to Cordey.

"We’re seeing a trend towards specialisation across sectors like food, clothing and home goods – and lots of small or online businesses have really capitalised on this," she said.

But Shane Brennan, public affairs director at the Association of Convenience Stores, said that small operators were having to be "ever more creative" to stay afloat.

"2012 is likely to be especially difficult because owners cannot sustain weak turnover and poor trading, unlike many of the bigger chains," he said. "Having said that, even big names are struggling and going out of business."

A proportion of small shops had sold well over Christmas, added Brennan, who said that many local grocery stores were picking up trade from supermarkets.

"Throughout the downturn, people have been shopping for less but more often, using their local shop," he said. "High petrol prices have also boosted trade for many of our members. However, some independent shops are really struggling with ever-fierce competition, increased overheads and poor sales."

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