Latest figures reveal gloomy future for high street traders
TOUGH times could lie ahead for Gloucestershire's high street traders with the latest figures showing a downturn in December profits.
Official figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) confirm the build up to Christmas was a difficult time for customers and retailers.
Seen as the busiest time of year for shops, December figures were up on last year, but down on the total value of sales recorded in November.
In November, the growth rate was 2.5 per cent, 0.7 per cent better than December. And gloomy predictions for January could follow suit as snow and ice keep shoppers away.
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British Retail Consortium Director General, Helen Dickinson, said the figures confirm it was a cautious Christmas and the figures would have been worse if not for buoyant online sales.
"With many household budgets still feeling the squeeze and no signs of economic challenges receding any time soon, this led to a respectable rather than spectacular result during the most crucial trading period of the year," she said.
"As with our own figures, the internet was the standout performer – our own figures would have shown subzero growth in non-food sales if it hadn't been for online's significant year on year rise.
"Even food, usually dependable at this time of year, showed a slowdown in growth.
"This suggests that relentlessly tough times led many to 'trade down' to cheaper and own-label brands, but also that many economised so that they had more money to spend treating family and friends with nice presents."
Chloe Brown, 18, from Cheltenham is a store supervisor at Card Factory in High Street.
She says business has been steady for the last month but preparations are starting even earlier for special events to maximise selling potential.
"We started getting Christmas cards and gifts in during August and it is the same in January - we are making the most of Valentine's Day," she said.
The cold snap to greet 2013 has led to a boom in sales for some specialist retailers. Shops selling shovels, sledges and winter clothing have enjoyed ringing tills with a timely boost to profits.
Sue Bilsborough, 55 from Prestbury, has been working in mountaineering shop Trespass for six years. She says shoppers left it late this year in the build up to Christmas but New Year sales are just as strong.
"The biggest change on previous years was the late rush," she said. "There were plenty of people still out shopping on Christmas Eve and Christmas week was crazy.
"But many grandparents were buying more practical gifts like raincoats and boots rather than toys this year to help out their families who have been struggling because of the economic downturn.
"Winter is always our busiest time of year because of the ski season and the snow here has made it even busier.
"There were people queuing up outside on Friday because of the snow. We have sold out of sledges.
"Children's snowsuits and boots are also selling well.
"It certainly hasn't been a quiet month for us."