John Shepherd, Partridges: What to expect this Christmas

18 October 2021, 07:19 AM
  • After saying goodbye to the Dog Days of summer, John Shepherd, MD of Partridges, weighs the pros and cons facing retailers ahead of Christmas 2021
John Shepherd, Partridges: What to expect this Christmas

Everyone knows about Leap Year coming around every four years. But few know that, at least in Central London, every year there occurs a Leap Week. A week in which sales increase to the value of at least an extra day a week.

It is the week when we say goodbye to the Dog Days of summer trading and hello to the Halcyon Days of the fourth quarter, which is hopefully looming on the horizon.

It is the week that usually includes September 1st. In this weekly period, or sometimes two-weekly period, sales rise miraculously like a footballer denied a penalty and the game continues as normal. Last year Leap Week accounted for a 25% rise in sales. The year before, spread over two weeks, it accounted for a 20% increase. This represents the biggest week-on-week rise in the year apart from the manic days just before Christmas.

The background reasons for all this are that August trade, never great, has over the last two years has been appallingly bad. The recipe of Brexid-19, the weather and universally lower morale does not produce the result of ‘spending with abandon’. In addition, the August Bank Holiday was a brilliant invention for retailers as it demarcates the time when holiday frivolity should draw to an end and the time to start looking for serious products should begin. Schools are back, offices are coming back and the weather… I dare not say it.

Homing customers return with a lingering taste for speciality foods and delicatessen products still in place and somewhere drifting by on the autumnal wind the word
‘Christmas’ is heard. This year the mood of optimism is somewhat overshadowed by events in the outside world. Supply chain problems have led to a shortage of basic items. Larger deliveries have been postponed or delayed. Prices have gone up in key areas and trying to recruit new staff is not as easy as it once was. Better to look after the old staff, I am constantly reminded… by the old staff. They are right. We have had our fair share of own goals on that scoresheet.

There is also a rise in competition. Although not immediately visible to the naked eye on a daily basis but it is bound to have an effect, the extent of which only time will tell. At an end of August count there are now 12 retailers selling takeaway food and drinks within a few hundred yards of Partridges – although none of them are grocers. Until recent times there were just four. Also, the relaxation of table and chairs licensing by the local authority has meant a lot of bars and eateries are extending their premises onto the pavements.

In addition, I have noticed around London that a diverse mix of other retailers have applied for the sale of alcohol for off sales. Cafés mainly, but in one case a fruit and veg shop and in another a butcher. In terms of competition, it was never thus but as with all competition it will help focus our minds on what really matters. Last year our good autumn turned into a good Christmas. We are hoping for an action replay.