“Smaller day-to-day spending has dropped dramatically” – how UK indies are faring amid declining retail sales

Ashwell and Co, Bristol

Despite being in the middle of the Christmas selling period, trading is tough for many retailers at present. The latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures revealed there was a 0.4 per cent drop in sales volumes in November 2022 as shoppers reined in their spending. This month many sales have been dampened further by the Royal Mail and rail strikes. Here some independent retailers from across the country reveal how their businesses are faring…

Kate Stewart, owner of London-based online retailer, I Know This Girl“November was looking quite hopeful for me, but then sales plummeted in December, largely due to the postal strikes. Some of the parcels I sent three weeks ago with the Royal Mail have yet to arrive and the postal strikes, on top of the cost of living crisis, are putting people off buying during this normally busy period. I sell high-priced niche products so Christmas isn’t really a deal breaker for me as they aren’t your ‘typical’ gift. I am hopeful that things will pick up in January. People are definitely being more conscious of where they are spending their money. However, they are also prepared to pay for high-quality products that last, and in our case those that benefit or enhance their wellbeing.”

Stephanie Bishop, owner of Leicestershire-based independent soap retailer, La Zouch Soaps“I had my best month ever in November, and I’ve beaten last December already. I think this is because I’ve been doing a lot of local markets, have increased my wholesale activity and haven’t relied on posting items out. My aim for 2023 is to focus on the markets that I know work, as customers need to smell my products before they buy, plus growing wholesale some more. I’m fairly confident about 2023, but don’t expect many sales in January and February, which is normal for my business.“

Helen Williams, director at Middlewich-based Willow Bridal Boutique“The cost of living crisis is absolutely biting small businesses like us. We are still dealing with the fallout from Covid and the delayed weddings connected to it. Brides-to-be are waiting until the last minute to order their gowns and asking for additional payment terms to help spread the cost of their dream wedding dress. Due to this, November’s sales were down compared to previous years. On a positive note, our diary is getting full for the New Year for late 2023 and early 2024 weddings due to current long lead times on wedding dresses.”

Kate Ashwell, owner of Bristol-based vintage clothes retailer, Ashwell & Co: “We are a bricks and mortar retailer with shops in Bristol and Newport. Our sales have become increasingly erratic and unpredictable since July this year. Smaller, day-to-day spending has dropped dramatically, undoubtedly as a result of people having less money in their pockets to spend on themselves. We sell vintage bridal wear alongside general vintage fashion and luckily our bridal wear has been incredibly buoyant this year. This has cushioned us from feeling the drop in general sales too significantly but relying on larger one-off sales is not a comfortable place to sit as a retailer.”

Dalia Hawley, owner of Leeds-based skincare retailer, Dalia Botanique: “I had a really good November. I think everyone was buying Christmas presents early due to postal strike warnings. December has been strong but more at the start and now it’s quietened down. The postal strikes are definitely contributing to this. I am unsure about next year. People are still spending money but changing their spending habits so I feel it’s about tailoring your business to match the changing behaviour of consumers. As a skincare brand, I am working on the lipstick effect. People still want to feel glamorous, they still want to pamper themselves and they will spend money on high-quality products that will make them feel good but also last a long time.”

Gillian Colley, designer at Peterborough-based jeweller, Paper2Pearls: “Two very different pictures in terms of sales for me over the past two months. Online has been tough and I’m down 55%, although my sales had been on a steady growth pattern for the year until then. Markets, where I sell face-to-face, have been completely different, with an increase in sales of 50% year-on-year. I do wonder how much this was influenced by people buying direct rather than risking postal delays. The postal strikes have had a huge impact on many small retail businesses and with the possibility that they may continue into the New Year, the future is also a worry.”