Christmas is not the massive business opportunity it used to be for many independent retailers and the big supermarkets’ discounting on booze is not helping to fill independents with festive cheer.
There is, however, often an increase in trade in the last week before Christmas, and Christmas Day was a definite money-spinner for those that opened their stores.
Nearly three quarters (74%) of independent retailers surveyed by The Grocer felt that discounting of booze by the big supermarkets was harming their business. “I cannot match their prices,” said one Lancashire-based retailer.
A rather more disgruntled shop owner in Castleford said: “They always harm my business, they should be shut down.”
The same retailer felt that Christmas in fact cost him money, as trade dropped overall in the month. A retailer in Maidenhead agreed, saying that customers didn’t really come in for Christmas, in fact they stopped coming in at all in December. “The only reason we get busy on Christmas Eve is for customers coming to buy the items they forgot to get at the supermarket,” said one shop owner in Wales.
Only half of the stores in our poll were going to open on Christmas Day this year and many for just a couple of hours. Those that had opened in the past found that this was a very busy two hours, though.
Our survey found some independent retailers were being tempted to cash in on the rock-bottom booze prices offered by some supermarkets.
Some 24% of respondents admitted to buying cases of booze from supermarkets while 76% continued to support their wholesalers.
Quantities available and general hassle factors seem to be an obstacle against going to the local supermarket.
A retailer in the Home Counties said that he had bought Stella from Asda last year as it was so cheap, but “you can’t get the quantities you need”.
Another independent retailer was so damning of what she perceived the supermarkets are doing to the independent trade that she said she’d sooner starve than go to Tesco.
As to whether Christmas is getting later each year, our survey found a slight majority agreeing, with 58% saying yes, that customers were coming in later and 42% thinking that Christmas started very early.
One retailer in the Midlands said that her customers had been buying her Christmas items for some time, while others felt that Christmas really did not impact on their business in the way it used to. “We just plod on as normal throughout December,” said a Nottingham-based retailer. “It used to be fantastic, but not anymore.”
Gail Hunt
Reader Panel: independents