Christmas garden centre sales may see pre price-hike sales boost

Garden centre Christmas trade may not get fully into gear until after Black Friday, though shoppers may be looking for pre-price increase bargains ahead of January exchange rate-related price increases.

Reports from garden centres are mixed, with some such as Klondyke saying a strong October has led to a lull before a four-week blitz in December.

Christmas Day is on a Sunday this year, giving an extra Saturday (meaning four Saturdays in December before Christmas Day) on Christmas Eve for shoppers to extend the festive buying season.

By 2017, garden retailers will have to face imported goods price rises if they have not already, meaning some customers may see December as a bargain-hunting season.

Mdj2 Associates director Andy Newman said: "Having visited a large number of centres over the last 10 days, the quality of visual merchandising is excellent, and better than anything that can be seen on most High Streets. The atmosphere being created in these Christmas Shops is great, with many also running high-quality Santa's Grotto facilities too. When you couple that with creative Christmas menus in restaurants I believe that most garden centres are really well set for a strong Christmas season."

Verdict retail content director Patrick O'Brien said: "Retailers face yet another weak Christmas, with overall sales up by just 1.5 per cent in the fourth quarter compared to the same period a year ago. While price rises caused by the historically weak pound will be largely staved off until next year, low consumer confidence in the economy post-referendum will keep spending down unless retailers can convince shoppers to bring forward big-ticket purchases ahead of those anticipated rises.

"Retailers will attempt to hold their nerve and place less emphasis on Black Friday this year though, as experience has shown that it brings forward sales that would have otherwise been made at full-price, but those who have struggled throughout the year, especially clothing retailers, will offer major discount."

Black Friday (November 25) – the US-imported promotional shopping event – grew in popularity in 2015 with 44.3 per cent of consumers surveyed by Verdict Retail participating in either Black Friday or Cyber Monday.

Hillier garden centres are holding an alternative Black Friday, promoting black plants such as Penstemon Blackbird and Agapanthus Black Magic.

In 2015, some 81 per cent participating in Black Friday bought electrics/tech and 42.5 per cent bought from the clothing and footwear sector. Verdict expects participation in this sector to grow this year, as retailers such "as Next have forewarned [Brexit/exchange rate-led] price increases of around five per cent in 2017".

While garden centres have not picked up strongly on Black Friday, and retailers such as Homebase concentrating on everyday low prices rather than promotions, Black Friday will still yield £2bn this year, with over half of this forecast to be spent online, according to the retail association IMRG and SimilarWeb. That will double if Cyber Monday is included.

Lovania has a Black Friday trolley bedding promotion with 10-pack pansies from 50p.

Retail sales volumes grew at the fastest pace for over a year in the 12 months to November, according to the latest CBI quarterly Distributive Trades Survey.

The increase in retail sales volumes was driven by the clothing and non-store goods sectors, as well hardware and DIY. Growth in internet sales volumes increased at a healthy pace over the same period, with expectations for growth in the year to December the strongest for two years.

DIY sales volumes were up 62 per cent on November 2015.

Meanwhile, as real Christmas trees come into garden centres, with competition high this year from artificial trees, Ikea is doing it's usual tree offer this year - buy one for £25 and get a £20 voucher to spend in January. Homebase already has a potted 1.5-2ft blue spruce at £10. Retailers such as Home Bargains are already halving the prices of artificial trees.

Verdict analyst Matthew Walton added that of 800 gardening shoppers surveyed, 65.9 per cent did the majority of their yearly gardening spend in April, May or June.

Poor weather this April led to bedding growers, for instance, struggling to regain early losses and garden sundry businesses such as growing media manufacturers in the same situation, with a flat year ensuing thanks to some autumn gains.

Walton said bad weather in quarter two of 2012, gardening sales fell by 24.3 per cent, and were down 9.8 per cent overall for 2012.

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