Trade could be facing worst Xmas since 2005

Trade could be facing worst Xmas since 2005

<p>Poor weather, a sluggish economy and higher levels of discounting than in 2009 could lead to this Christmas being the worst festive period for booksellers since the middle of the last decade, short of a last-minute flurry of sales.</p><p>The snow at the beginning of the month caused problems across large parts of Scotland, and the north and south-west of England, exacerbating a situation in which book retailers had already been discounting more heavily than last year. </p><p>According to figures from Nielsen BookScan, average discount on the top 1,000 bestselling hardbacks last week was 37.1% against 31.3% in the same period in 2009, with seven of the top 20 bestselling hardbacks being reduced by more than 50%. </p><p>Dominic Myers, managing director of Waterstones, said the economy was at the heart of sluggish demand. He said: &ldquo;Consumers are being more careful and are more concerned about what they buy. The big titles are selling much better and they are heavily discounted. It shows consumers are concerned about expenditure even on lower priced items like books. The difficult question is when we will see the big peak with sales. People are being very cautious going into Christmas. We are hoping the weather will improve and people will get out.&rdquo;&nbsp; </p><p>In a more benign trading environment discounting might be sufficient to stimulate increased volumes, but retail sales continued to run a week behind last year according to research firm Synovate. It published figures this week showing the year-on-year footfall deficit against 2009 was &ndash;7.0% for the week from 5th December to 11th December.</p><p>The weather was blamed in large measure for the poor result with further potentially disruptive conditions forecast to sweep the country by the end of this week. However, most retailers and wholesalers felt a Christmas victory could yet be snatched from the jaws of seeming commercial defeat. Michael Neil, managing director of Bertrams, said: &ldquo;Everyone ended up with backlogs [of deliveries owing to bad weather], but everyone&rsquo;s done pretty well bearing in mind all the disruptions.&rdquo;</p><p>He added: &ldquo;From our perspective, business is actually pretty good. We&rsquo;re actually quite lucky because we&rsquo;re not dependent on any one sector. The indies are doing well, the chains are doing well and our international business is doing well, although the latter will drop off as we get closer to Christmas.&rdquo;</p><p>Bob Jackson, commercial director at Gardners, agreed snow had &ldquo;impacted business&rdquo; but added: &ldquo;At the moment I&rsquo;m still confident that people will buy Christmas presents and, as usual, they will shop late&mdash;which is what I&rsquo;d expect with Christmas being [on &shy;Saturday] at the end of the last week in December.&rdquo;</p><p>However, according to projected figures, this poor year could the trade shrink to its 2005 size, about &pound;1.65bn. Currently, the market is down 3.8% year on year, while sales last week were down 4.5% year on year. If sales over the coming fortnight were to perform at a similar rate, sales at year-end could total around &pound;1.68bn, down 4% or &pound;70.1m year on year. Volume sales would be down 5% year on year to &pound;223.9m and the average selling price will be down 0.6% to &pound;7.39.</p>