talking trade


’Tis the season…

As we roll into the Golden Quarter - the three-month run-in to Christmas and the New Year – industry commentator Michael Weedonunwraps how much, what and where consumers spent their cash in Christmases past

the annual total. The preceding two quarters get, generally, their fair share of the spoils: a quarter of the total each. Q1 is, um, thinner. An oddity within the food sector is that we seem

to be spending less on booze (and fags) than in the past. For non-food including, of course, housewares, the imbalances across the year are more marked. Generally speaking Q1 comes in at 22% of the total, the middle two at 24% each and the Golden Quarter at 30%. Household goods rack up 27-28% of annual spend, with the other three-quarters evenly spread.

“ Black Friday has become

less visible on high streets than it was less than five


ere we are again, in the Golden Quarter. Trade good? Good. So exactly how Golden is it? And for whom?

The ONS (Office for National Statistics) has

provided us with a nice festive present in the form of detailed monthly spending figures going back to the beginning of 1986. A few simple sums in Excel reveal that while the

last three months of the year definitely see us spending more in actual cash terms than in the other three-quarters, the bump in takings is not as big as we might expect. On average, over the past five years, we spent

between 28% and 29% of our annual retail cash between the beginning of October and the end of December. Last year, the tills rang up just over £106 billion in the Christmas quarter - about £18 billion more than either of the middle quarters of the year, which each accounted for a squeak under 25% of the annual total. Still, that’s just over £270 extra spent by every person in the UK in the final three months of the year. Obviously, for all that to work, the remaining quarter has to be lower and, unsurprisingly, it is. Over the past half-decade that wintry period has bimbled around at, generally, 23% of annual spending. Food and drink are at the heart of festivity, but oddly the spending bump is less marked than for other forms of consumption. Over the most recent half-decade, the last quarter share of annual expenditure has come in at 27% of

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years ago, when it spawned the new sport of wrestling for TVs in the aisles of

major supermarkets, and has morphed instead into a festival of white van deliveries ”

Household electrical goods are higher than the

average for non-food at a Golden Quarter share of 33%, but they trail books and other print products at 35%, music and video at 35% and phones and computers at 36%. The percentages are smoothed out, of course, because of seasonality. Christmas is not an ideal time to flog barbecues, garden furniture and lawnmowers, for example. That didn’t stop Bunnings giving it a good try, featuring sunshine goods around the time of the winter solstice… but we all know how well that worked out. For non-store retailing, the last quarter is slightly

more golden than the others, taking nearly a third of the overall total for the year. Now, of course, some of that gold is looking distinctly darker. Black Friday has become less visible on high

streets than it was less than five years ago, when it spawned the new sport of wrestling for TVs in the aisles of major supermarkets, and has morphed instead into a festival of white van deliveries.

Forecasting with rulers (just by extending a trend line) is a very suspect thing to do. But if the last part of 2018 follows the spending trend of the first half, we would expect to see overall retail spending increase by just shy of £4 billion in comparison to Q4 2017. Non-food retail would add £1.2 billion, the broad household goods category would gain £526 million, and within that, household electricals would account for an added £63 million. Non-store retailers would bank more than £1.5 billion than they did in 2017. Will that all come to pass? Who knows? It’s in the

nature of surprises, particularly Christmas gifts, that we don’t know what’s inside the wrapping until we open the present. If that did all come true then, on the basis that

more is better, the Golden Quarter might well deliver. In which case let me be, by some distance, the first to wish you a Happy Christmas.

• Michael Weedon is chair of the FSB [Federation of Small Businesses] Retail and High Streets Policy Unit and managing director of exp2 Ltd, which carries out projects including research and report creation for clients in the retail industry, including data providers, place managers and individual retailers. He established exp2 in 2016 from a leading trade association role.

Michael’s contact details are: Mobile: 07411 763 551 Email: Tw: @michaelweedon

October/November 2018

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