Tuesday, March 28News For London

First Christmas after lockdown: The last chance for independent shops

For Christmas trade, independent business owners are cautiously optimistic. Have they lost the opportunity to make money?

In a toyshop, electric toy cars are at discounts to encourage customers to buy.
Credit to Peiyun He

England’s current lockdown will end on Wednesday 2nd December. Shops, gyms and personal care services can reopen. Meanwhile, Christmas is around the corner. For retailers, the Golden quarter – which incorporates both Christmas and Black Friday – will be critical this year.

UK shoppers are planning to spend an average of £346 on Christmas gifts this year, according to an annual study by American Express . This is 11 per cent more than a year ago, with Brits spending £312 on Christmas presents in 2019.

However, some shops might have already missed the opportunity this year.

More consumers brought forward their Christmas shopping, with over 40 per cent of customers in London looking to buy presents over Black Friday . About 60% said they would have their Christmas shopping done by the end of November in the survey of 2,000 people by OnePoll, commissioned by John Lewis.

During this ‘early Christmas’ spending time, most independent shops remained closed instead of making a profit.

A passerby stopped in front of a closed shop. Credit to Peiyun He

Sheraz Shah, 76, runs a one pound shop in London. After closing for four months because of the pandemic, his business reopened at the end of November with permission from the Government.

Shah stocks with limited Christmas goods this year, considering that there are only three weeks left to sell these commodities. In previous years, it took around two months to digest Christmas storages in his shop. “If we don’t sell out, we have to keep them for the whole year,” he said to Westminster World.

To prevent damage from stocks, Shah concentrates on his main business, selling the bedding, kitchen supplies and household products. One of his workers added: “We are just hoping for the December. If we do something better and we can get at least rent money back.”

Mr. Shah is in his shop.   Credit to Peiyun He

According to data released from Local Data Company, there were 1,833 closures of independent shops between January and June 2020. Store closures had become a trend before the pandemic. Since records began in 2013, there have been 20,019 closures and 18,186 openings of independent shops.

Revenue is impacted by behaviours and expectations of consumers. A series of consumer sentiment surveys produced by Price Waterhouse Coopers showed that sentiment recovers to near pre-pandemic levels at the start of the fourth quarter, while the latest index in November showed the sharpest fall since March 2020, falling to -10 from -1 in September.

Willy Smith owns a toyshop in Harrow, and he also sells personal protective equipment (PPE). His business was allowed to open during lockdown, but customers could only book via Facebook and email, and then collected their orders.

On Black Friday, he discounted most toys to encourage customers to buy. Even some of them were given 50 per cent off.

Unfortunately, it didn’t help. “No customer here on Black Friday,” he added.

Willy Smith sells electric toys and PPE in his shop.   Credit to Peiyun He

Nevertheless, Smith holds a positive attitude about Christmas and this new business started four months ago. He explained: “I think a lot of people just still waiting for Christmas to buy the gift.”