“The results are in”

06 February 2017, 05:11 am
Expert Eye by John Shepherd

I am pleased to report that Christmas 2016 proved to be our busiest Christmas yet. For the 24 days of December up to Christmas Day itself, we were 5.7% up on 2016. For the entire month of December 2016 our sales rose by 6% on the previous year. Our previous best year was 2015 which we increased by 4.5%

It is always pleasing to surpass the previous year’s sales figures, of course, and there are a number of reasons I would put forward as to why this year achieved such a good result in our small corner of the world. Which is of course a very subjective analysis.

Firstly, I always believe that Partridges performs better when Christmas falls on a weekend. Some of our best years reflect this – for example 2004, 2011 and now 2016.

The main reason is that the run up to Christmas is not disrupted by a weekend which is often when our customers decide to go away. Also, the five days before a weekend Christmas enable customers to buy their foodstuffs in a more planned manner, hopefully building up to a crescendo by the end of the week.

Secondly, the weather was very kind to food retailers. There were no disruptive weather events like last year when we had an extremely windy day that played havoc with travel arrangements on a key Saturday. In general, the crisp and clear weather we experienced was most conducive to Christmas food purchasing. In fact, Saturday 17th December was our busiest day ever and a particularly benign day weather-wise.

Thirdly, the lower value of the pound did seem to increase the number of foreign visitors to London. It is always difficult to know how this directly impacts on our sales, but anecdotal evidence suggests it did not do us any harm, and our own label range performed particularly well as a result.

Fourthly, website sales continue to rise at a much greater rate than shop sales, although admittedly in much smaller volumes. In 2016 our website sales were the best ever, with a 19% increase over the previous year. On the downside, traditional hamper sales continue to decline. Our 2016 sales were 10% down on 2015 and have been down year on year since 2011. Bespoke hampers are the one area that does show signs of growth with an increase of 15% in this category alone. It seems Christmas hampers are very much commodity items these days, and a Google search reveals over 400,000 listings for them. Everyone’s doing them.

Looking through the best-sellers list for Christmas 2016, it is pleasing to note that there are still many good old stalwarts to be found. Mince pies had a great year for us, particularly the ones we make ourselves. Chocolate Olivers, elvas plums, Champagne and Prosecco obviously, smoked salmon, Stilton jars, Vacherin Mont D’Or, marrons glaces, turkeys, Christmas crackers and all sorts of chocolates – especially Bittermints – and, not to forget, marzipan are all holding their own. Christmas puddings still appear on the best-sellers list despite gloomy predictions about the future of this institution. Perhaps they are being replaced in the affections of our customers by panettone which had an outstanding year again and comes in a variety of shapes, sizes and flavours.

However in a sense, and bearing in mind the Retail Price Index, every year should be the best year ever. Of course there will be new competition, prices will rise, external events will affect shopping habits and the weather will play a part, but in order to hold our own we have to constantly innovate and come up with new ideas. It is a slightly sobering thought that although our sales at Partridges have risen by around 67% since 1996 using the same methodology, the retail price index has risen by 61.8%. Which goes to prove that there are always highs and lows in the long life of a speciality food shop.

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