January is rarely cited as a favourite month of the year. The arrival of the new year generally marks the end of feasting on cheese and chocolate in your PJs, and going to bed without setting what now feels like an obscenely early alarm. In particular, I feel sympathy for retailers as they return to work at the start of a new year, battling the same return to reality as the rest of us, but with the added exhaustion of having just completed the most wonderful (read chaotic) time of the retail year. Furthermore, the results of that Christmas shopping season often set the tone for the rest of the trading year – for better or for worse. The lucky ones are given a significant head start to the year, whilst the less fortunate are destined to spend the year making up a lack of festive success.
There’s no denying that retailers are well within their rights to associate more than a little anxiety with the Christmas trading results. We saw a tough year for the whole retail market in 2018, with the cost of living in the UK at an all-time high, and shoppers scrutinising product prices more than ever as a result. On top of this, the uncertainty presented by Brexit and increased reliance on online sales due to continually falling footfall all contribute to a challenging retail landscape.
Adding to this is the very real concern that Christmas trading results from previous years have demonstrated that there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of a ‘happy medium’ when it comes to how a brand has performed. The Guardian last year published a piece on 11 January headlined, ‘The UK Christmas retail winners and losers’. Amongst the proclaimed winners of Christmas 2017 were John Lewis, Tesco, Fat Face and Joules, whilst the losers included Marks & Spencer, House of Fraser and Debenhams. There was no ‘these brands didn’t do too badly’ category – retailers either did well or they didn’t. Or at least that’s how the story was reported, with an arbitrary line in the sand drawn beyond which failure awaits – as if things are ever that simple in the retail world.
Despite all of this, my feeling so far is that the message for retailers as we enter 2019 is simply to keep going! Brands can be extremely resilient to tough conditions on the high street. John Lewis and Next, for example, have come out well from the Christmas 2018 trading period, with the former seeing sales up by 4.5% in the week to 29 December, and the latter declaring that full price sales between 28 October and 29 December were up 1.5%. Amongst a gloomy retail outlook, two success stories, and two brands ready to weather whatever storm 2019 might throw at them.
So whether your January results are brilliant, disastrous or somewhere in the middle, take heart. With the right strategy, it is possible not only to combat whatever the next eleven-and-a-half months throw at you, but to proactively plan for a brilliant January report come 2020. For further inspiration, take a look at my recommended New Year’s resolutions for retailers, here.