So how was Christmas on the High Street?

03 January 2020 - Elizabeth Nichols

Most of us are now back to work, enjoying a couple of days of quieter roads before the return to school and according to certain newspapers (who enjoy predicting this kind of thing) we may be getting up to 14 inches of snow by the end of the month!

More reliable than the weather forecast is perhaps the fact that we are at the start of the period of Christmas trading announcements, and as I think is customary, Next are the first to announce their results, with more to follow next week.

The headline figures look very positive, with an increase in Quarter 4 full price sales of 5.2% compared to the like-for-like period last year; a healthy increase which is well above the internal forecast.

Next have then provided a further breakdown of these figures showing that retail sales are actually down by 3.9% whilst online sales are up 15.3%. A colleague of mine who is twenty years younger than me (which of course means he has twenty years less experience!) has the view that these figures are to be expected and they follow the trend. In some respects, it’s hard to disagree with that – it’s certainly what the perception of my good friend the man on the Clapham Omnibus would be.

The bare figures might suggest that Next should consider closing all of their High Street stores and become an online only retailer.

But what the results announcement does not set out, and it’s probably an impossible figure to arrive at, is the percentage of online sales that result from a visit to a Next store or by the very fact that buying from one of their shops gives the customer an inbuilt reassurance that because Next are on the High Street it’s a safer purchase than from an online only retailer.

It will be interesting to see Christmas trading announcements from the other major retailers over the next week, in particular where retail and online trading is split out.

I (and many others) would certainly welcome any indication that the High Street is alive and kicking and adapting to change – even if some of those retailers on the High Street remain slow to adjust the way that they sell to their customers. There is to my mind, and it’s my view that this is part of the success of Next, a huge benefit in being able to touch what you are thinking about buying – before you order from the comfort of your own home.

I am hoping that this intangible benefit is the secret ingredient behind the Next figures – we will have to wait and see.

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