What about 2015?

It’s that time of the year. In the final run-up to Christmas, all the retailers’ plans have been laid and we just have to wait to see how they turn out. It’s always hard to read what is going on and there is certainly quite a lot of discounting, partly because the unseasonably warm weather has hit clothing demand hard.

But the best starting point for looking ahead to 2015 is to look at what has happened in 2014. We have retail sales data up to October and the annual performance is unlikely to be very different, after all the first ten months of the year account for 80% of all retail sales. (December is important, but it is less than 11% of sales).

A good year for consumers

2014 has been good for consumers. The housing market has been strong, interest rates have stayed down and at the end of the year wages growth exceeded inflation for the first time since 2009. So it is hardly surprising that retail demand has held up well.

What about 2015?

The outlook for 2015 is much more uncertain. The message from the Bank of England is that interest rates will start to go up, and probably sooner rather than later, and probably before the election rather than after. It is an election year, so the government is unlikely to want to upset consumers before the election and any fiscal tightening is unlikely to impact much before 2016.

Nor does it help that the eurozone, our most important trading partner, is currently struggling and flirting with recession.

Winners and losers

The top performer has been the mail order sector – a title which is overdue a change. It comprises the old catalogue businesses and the internet pureplayers.

The major loser of the year was the grocers. 2014 was the year when the decline of the superstores gathered pace, and by the end of the year all of the majors were losing sales. That will continue into 2015.

Figure 1: Retail sector performance, Jan – October 2014
Growth % Jan-Oct 2014 – What has happpened 2015 – prospects
Mail Order 15.5 Growth of the pure players more than offsetting the decline in mail order. More of the same
Miscellaneous specialists 10.4 Too many sectors, but probably benefitting from strength of discretionary items, such as jewellery Discretionary items unlikely to perform so well
Furniture, Lighting etc 8.3 Strength of the housing market Likely to be more subdued
Textiles 6.8 Small and very erratic sector
Mixed goods (incl department stores) 6.7 Great performance from the non-food discounters (eg Poundland and B&M) and from leading department stores (eg John Lewis) Likely to do well again
Computers & Telecoms Equipment 6.2 A recovery after a 40% decline since 2005. Tablets and smartphones have helped, but sector is losing out to broader based retailers, such as Currys Hard to see the recovery being maintained
Predominantly Non-food Stores, All Businesses 5.6 The motor behind growth and clearly outperforming the food retailers That will continue.
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Source: Office for national Statistics/Mintel


Online retail sales have grown by 12% so far in 2014. The pureplayers have grown fastest and have increased their share to 48.5%, compared with 47.6% last year. The proportion is likely to fall a little as the store-based retailers tend to do better over Christmas.

Overall, online sales have accounted for 10.8% (10.0% in 2013) of all retail sales so far in 2014 and the full year figure looks likely to be around 11.2% (10.4% in 2013) as online sales always rise over Christmas.

This growth in the pureplayers seems surprising given the progress made online by so many store-based retailers. And it is true that the higher profile stores – department stores and clothing retailers - have grown faster than the pureplayers. The food retailers have grown at almost the same rate but household goods and the miscellaneous specialists have grown much more slowly. In fact the miscellaneous group has seen sales fall, perhaps reflecting the failure of some store-based businesses, such as HMV, to make much of an impact online.

The messages from 2014

2014 will go down in history as the year when the trend to grocery superstores definitely reversed. The long-term trend to ever larger superstores has finally come to an end. The change is driven by consumers changing their shopping habits.

Online sales growth began to slow a little. But after 2014 we can definitely say that online is not killing the high street. For store-based retailers online is just a service to customers and an important weapon in their armoury. In fact it now looks as if online is strengthening the high street with the growth in convenience stores, the development of click and collect outlets and, as we have argued elsewhere, the return of some fashion retailing to the high street.

But online is also raising the stakes in retailing by making it easier for customers to compare retailers. As we argued after Christmas 2013, that is likely to lead to greater disparity of performance and those that are falling short in their offer will be more ruthlessly punished than in the past.

2015 will not be an easy year, but all these major trends will be very much in evidence.

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