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True meaning of Christmas

Published:  12 January, 2009

You can, as many a sales manager will tell you, read what you like into a set of sales figures. One man's catastrophic sales performance is another's record performance.

It all depends on where you started from and what your expectations were. Wading through the avalanche of shock trading figures from a host of retail names over Christmas and New Year and you would be forgiven for thinking we are in the midst of a retail armaggedon.

But for everyone's Marks & Spencer there is an Asda, Co-op or a Sainsbury's reporting upbeat festive sales. Our round up of Christmas sales this week is a mixed bag and whilst there are many out there who are rightly bullish after what has been desperate trading conditions, it would be unwise to get too carried away by a bit of festive cheer.

The level of discounting and pre-Christmas offers were even more intense than usual and with many people taking effectively a 10-day break there was a sustained opportunity for a last minute sales uplift right through to last weekend. The on-trade, in particular, benefited from prolonged late sales with most of the major suppliers reporting better than expected December figures - at least better than expected going into the last week of the year.

If we look at trends right along the high street this year then it is clear people left their festive shopping until the last minute to make the most of what became increasingly hysterical sales strategies to get customers into their stores.

Nielsen, for one, is calling for caution and reminds the trade to take more notice of the sluggish sales growth through November and early December as potentially a more realistic take on the true picture out there.

It will probably take some time yet for the fall out from Christmas to settle down and quite how much of the sales were people stocking up for a long winter. But it is reassuring to here there is a reasonably high level of re-ordering going on, particularly in the on-trade, and that those who had understandably run stocks down are now back in the market.

Fingers crossed that continues.