There will be little Christmas cheer for more than 30,000 retailers that are in “significant” financial distress during the busiest shopping period of the year.
Data collected by the insolvency firm Begbies Traynor is the latest to lay bare the retail industry’s woes, which have extended beyond the high street. Nearly 8,500 of the 30,000 experiencing a holiday shopping slump are online retailers, marking a 2% rise from a year earlier and a 49.5% increase since the start of 2017.
Shares in the former online retail darling Asos plunge 40% last week after itissued a profit warning. The warning followed a tough November, which was punctuated by big price cuts by rivals. The Sports Direct founder, Mike Ashley, even went as far as saying that November was “the worst on record” and “unbelievably bad” for retailers.
The update from Begbies Traynor suggests little has changed in the final weeks before Christmas.
“As we near the end of the crucial festive period, with many retailers pinning their hopes on a final flurry of shopper activity this weekend as more are plunged into significant financial distress, to say 2018 has been a tumultuous year is something of an understatement,” said Julie Palmer, a partner at the insolvency firm.
“Even online, which has been hailed as the future of the sector, is not immune.”
Palmer warned that if retailers were hit by another slow Christmas period, the industry could be in deeper trouble than at the start of 2018, when the number of fashion retailers and online shops in distress surged by 17% and 46% respectively.
However, the total tally of fashion retailers in financial distress (3,300) is down 6% compared with last Christmas, while the overall number of high street retailers in trouble is down 8% at 17,226.
Palmer said it it was unclear what 2019 would bring, as retailers continued to slash prices and hand out vouchers in an attempt to bolster sales before year-end at the expense of profits.
The latest data from Springboard, which tracks shopper numbers, showed footfall on the Saturday before Christmas was down 0.7% compared with last year, but up 3% from Friday.
Retail parks experienced the worst year-on-year decline, down 3.2%, while high street footfall rose by 1%. Shopping centre footfall on Saturday was down 1.7% compared with the same day last year, but up 6.2% compared with Friday and rose 10.9% on a week earlier.
Diane Wehrle, the insights director at Springboard, said: “Clearly shoppers have been leaving their purchases to the last moment, possibly to secure additional discounts. Despite the uplift from the week before, the rises were not sufficient to result in a year-on-year rise, which underlines the degree to which footfall has dropped over the year.”
Palmer said there was still hope for the industry if businesses were nimble.
“It is not all doom and gloom, and there are learnings from successful retail stories. If retailers want to thrive, they will have to bring greater value to their brands. They need to get better at anticipating, and responding to, next generation demands and expectations,” she said.
“Ted Baker has done this well by creating an aspirational brand sold through an online-offline hybrid model. However, they are also feeling the effects of another trait of today’s ethical consumer – if its recent PR crisis isn’t dealt with properly, customers will change loyalties on the basis of principle,” she said.
Ted Baker’s founder, Ray Kelvin, took a leave of absence this month after about 300 former and current staff signed an online petition complaining about alleged behaviour including “forced hugs” and ear kissing.
“In 2019, we will see more openly environmentally friendly, ethically and socially conscious brands thriving in retail,” Palmer said.