Are the storms getting worse now that someone has decided to give them names? Certainly by the time Frank had finished with my garden, I’d pretty much got the swimming pool I always thought that I had not wanted. And I was one of the lucky ones.
One abiding memory for me for the last month or so has been seeing retailers on the news pumping out their shops after yet another flood, sometimes for the second or even third time this winter. Ruined stores, stock and livelihoods; both large and small retailers badly affected. With Christmas being so important for retailers in trade terms, for some, this will be the final straw. And with households concerned with their own homes, there has been little festive cheer in many places. A dreadful end to not a good year in retailing.
The run-up to Christmas is inevitably met with various media stories about its importance to retailers and predictions over whether it will be a good or bad Christmas. Equally inevitably, it is almost always both – for some retailers it is good and for others not so good, or downright bad. Springboard may have got it right when they reported that retailers they were talking to spilt one-third saying it had been good, one-third saying it had been bad and one-third somewhere in the middle. It is generally always thus, though the percentages may alter a bit. There are always such seasonal winners and losers.
But this year may be the point of no return for more retailers than before, and not just because of the weather impacts, though they have really had an effect on some. The almost incessant sales, the embedding of discounting,the continuing increasing costs burden, the ongoing (accelerating still?) shift to online, including over the angst and trauma for retailers that was or was not Black Friday (day, weekend, week, month, whatever) and then the weather; all combine to make retailing less predictable and Christmas retailing much more significant but also much more volatile than before. The warmest and wettest December on record does not do much for some retail sectors and stock overhangs could be extensive. Great for consumers perhaps, if they are still in the mood, though bad for business. But performance all depends on how well organised and managed any individual retailer is, their ability to buy and sell at the right prices and to maintain cost control together with service and interest. A dose of good luck would also not go awry.
Like the weather, retailing is changing, and some will be better off than others for the change. But, has mainstream (legacy?) retailing been too reactive (or dismissive in some quarters) or in denial for too long? We still have too much retail space in many parts of the country and too many uninspiring offers being outcompeted on the internet and on price. The stronger retailers have altered their mix and their approach to stores, stock, staff and customers. There remains though a long way to go, and retailing will continue to have to adapt to the new realities of the business and of consumers.
This week is the beginning of the Christmas “results” season. Comparability will be in short supply again as each business seeks to put its best foot (spin) forward. Winners and losers there will be; and the gap between them may be getting bigger. But for all, we might have to re-assess our expectations in this new world. Survival will be a close call for many retailers, small and some large. The retail perfect storm for 2016 may have begun with Frank, but that won’t be the last name we’ll remember.