Competition between the major supermarkets was especially intense this Christmas with even giants such as Sainsbury and Morrisons reporting flagging sales.
And judging by the reaction of independent retailers who spoke to The Grocer last week at Dhamecha Cash & Carry in Barking, many found business tough over Christmas too, but there is optimism about prospects this year.
Anoop Singh, who has been running Gaks Wines in South Woodford for 10 years, describes sales in the run up to this Christmas as “a bit quiet”.
However, in spite of some of the massive discounts in the supermarkets, he believes independent retailers can do more to draw in customers to their stores.
“Retailers need to introduce new ideas and should not just let the big stores do well,” he says. And he is feeling confident about the prospects for the coming year. “We have just refitted and extended the shop and we have been paying attention to that. But now we can concentrate on selling and sales should go up.”
Over the 10 years he has run the business, sales have doubled and he expects the refit and extension will boost sales by another 20%-25%.
As in South Woodford, Christmas did not inspire customers to splash out at the Costcutter store in Roman Road, Bow.
Describing sales in the run up to Christmas, Shaid Ahmed says: “It was OK. It was not good, but it was not bad.” She said it was difficult to gauge the prospects for the coming year, but investment plans for a second shop have been put on hold.
Tavish Mahandru has had a mixed experience since he took over Mahandru Stores in Ilford from his parents two years ago. He says sales the first Christmas were very good, but this year was “a lot worse”. “There was much less excitement among customers this Christmas,” he says.
Investing in the store has brought mixed results. He introduced a new layout and new fittings in a three-stage process, and after the second stage sales shot up.
However, after the third and final stage, which he expected would bring the best uplift of all, sales actually dropped off.
Gursewak Singh of Vintage Wines in Dagenham has been in business for 21 years and says of Christmas: “Each year it is getting worse and worse.”
Although the bigger stores offered huge discounts on beer and wine, including the Somerfield opposite his store that had a couple of offers lower than any cash and carry price, he believes their effect was no worse than normal.“Some people will shop around,” he says, “but my regular customers were still coming in.”