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Posts Tagged ‘retail’

What’s Next?

The economic climate remains uncertain and, as we enter 2017, we look towards a new President in the USA, challenging negotiations in the EU and continuing troubles for High Street stores. One such example is Next, a High Street retailer that has recently seen a significant fall in share price.

Prices of clothing and footwear increased in December for the first time in two years, according to the British Retail Consortium, and Next is just one company that will suffer from these pressures. This retail chain is well established, with over 500 stores in the UK and Eire. It has embraced the internet, launching its online shopping in 1999 and it trades with customers in over 70 countries. However, despite all of the positive actions, Next has seen its share price fall by nearly 12% and is forecasting profits in 2017 to be hit, with a lack of growth in earnings reducing consumer spending and thus hitting sales.

The sales trends for Next are reminiscent of many other stores, with in-store sales falling and online sales rising. In the days leading up to Christmas, in-store sales fell by 3.5%, while online sales increased by over 5%. However, this is not the only trend that this latest data suggests. It also indicates that consumer spending on clothing and footwear is falling, with consumers instead spending more money on technology and other forms of entertainment. Kirsty McGregor from Drapers magazine said:

“I think what we’re seeing there is an underlying move away from spending so much money on clothing and footwear. People seem to be spending more money on going out and on technology, things like that.”

Furthermore, with price inflation expected to rise in 2017, and possibly above wage inflation, spending power is likely to be hit and it is spending on those more luxury items that will be cut. With Next’s share price falling, the retail sector overall was also hit, with other companies seeing their share prices fall as well, although some, such as B&M, bucked the trend. However, the problems facing Next are similar to those facing other stores.

But for Next there is more bad news. It appears that the retail chain has simply been underperforming for some time. We have seen other stores facing similar issues, such as BHS and Marks & Spencer. Neil Wilson from ETX Capital said:

“The simple problem is that Next is underperforming the market … UK retail sales have held up in the months following the Brexit vote but Next has suffered. It’s been suffering for a while and needs a turnaround plan … The brand is struggling for relevancy, and risks going the way of Marks & Spencer on the clothing front, appealing to an ever-narrower customer base.”

Brand identity and targeting customers are becoming ever more important in a highly competitive High Street that is facing growing competition from online traders. Next is not the first company to suffer from this and will certainly not be the last as we enter what many see as one of the most economically uncertain years since the financial crisis.

Next’s gloomy 2017 forecast drags down fashion retail shares The Guardian, Sarah Butler and Julia Kollewe (4/1/17)
Next shares plummet after ‘difficult’ Christmas trading The Telegraph, Sam Dean (4/1/17)
Next warns 2017 profits could fall up to 14% as costs grow Sky News, James Sillars (4/1/17)
Next warns on outlook as sales fall BBC News (4/1/17)
Next chills clothing sector with cut to profit forecast Reuters, James Davey (4/1/17)
Next shares drop after warning of difficult winter Financial Times, Mark Vandevelde (22/10/15)

Questions

  1. With Next’s warning of a difficult winter, its share price fell. Using a diagram, explain why this happened.
  2. Why have shares in other retail companies also been affected following Next’s report on its profit forecast for 2017?
  3. Which factors have adversely affected Next’s performance over the past year? Are they the same as the factors that have affected Marks & Spencer?
  4. Next has seen a fall in profits. What is likely to have caused this?
  5. How competitive is the UK High Street? What type of market structure would you say that it fits into?
  6. With rising inflation expected, what will this mean for consumer spending? How might this affect economic growth?
  7. One of the factors affecting Next is higher import prices. Why have import prices increased and what will this mean for consumer spending and sales?
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BHS: the end of an era?

According to the BBC’s Joe Lynam, “Britain has the most competitive and dynamic retail environment in the world, which attracts shoppers globally.” It is perhaps this fact which may save BHS, with new owners being attracted by such an opportunity. BHS is soon expected to file for administration, with debts of more than £1.3 billion and having failed to secure the loan needed to keep it afloat. If this company collapses, it will bring an end to the life of an 88 year old giant.

The British retail scene has certainly changed over the past decade, with names such as Woolworths and Comet disappearing – could BHS be the next casualty of the changing retail climate? In the world of retail, tastes change quickly and those stores who fail to change with the times are the ones that suffer. One of the factors behind the downfall of BHS is the ‘dated’ nature of its stores and fashions. As clothing outlets such as Zara, Oasis and Next have continued to change with the times, commentators suggest that BHS continues with a trading offer from the 1980s. With the online shopping trend, many household names adapted their strategy, but BHS failed to do so and the second chance that BHS asked the public for when Sir Philip Green, its former owner, sold BHS in 2015 hasn’t materialised.

With administrators ready to be brought in and thousands of jobs hanging in the balance, the administrators will be looking at methods to attract funding, new owners or so-called ‘cherry pickers’ who may be interested in buying up the more profitable stores. Some of their stores remain in prime locations and deliver a tidy profit and it is perhaps these gems, together with the tradition that British Home Stores brings that may yet see the company saved. The outcome for BHS will not only affect the jobs of its employees, but will affect the pensions of thousands of workers. The BHS pension fund currently has a deficit of £576 million and so the Pension Protection Fund will have to look closely at the situation before thinking about issues a contribution notice to those connected with the fund.

A deal was on the cards last week, with BHS owner Dominic Chappell in talks with Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct, but the high debts and pensions deficit appears to have deterred this deal. The failing fortunes of BHS have now come back to haunt former owner, Sir Philip Green, who in March 2015, sold the business for just £1. Sir Philip may return to save the day, but the options for this once giant of the British high street are rather limited. The following articles consider the fortunes of BHS.

BHS seeks Sports Direct lifeline as it heads for collapse The Guardian, Graham Ruddick (24/04/16)
BHS expected to file for administration on Monday BBC News (25/04/16)
Thousands of BHS workers face anxious wait amid administration fears The Telegraph (25/04/16)
BHS administration: ‘Imminent bankruptcy’ puts 11,000 jobs at risk Independent, Peter Yeung (25/04/16)
Up to 11,000 jobs face the axe as BHS is expected to announce collapse of chain after efforts to find rescuer failed Mail Online, Neil Craven (24/04/16)
BHS nears collapse putting 11,000 jobs at risk Sky News (25/04/16)
BHS set to file for administration after sales talks fail Financial Times, Murad Ahmed (25/04/16)

Questions

  1. Using a demand and supply diagram, can you explain some of the factors that have contributed to the difficult position that BHS finds itself in?
  2. Now, can you use a diagram showing revenues and profits and explain the current position of BHS?
  3. What type of market structure does BHS operate in? Can this be used to explain why it is in its current position?
  4. How has the company failed in adapting its business strategy to the changing times?
  5. Looking back at the history of BHS, can you apply the product life cycle to this store?
  6. If another company is considering purchasing BHS, or at least some of its stores, what key information will it need and what might make it likely to go ahead with such a purchase?
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Christmas consumer borrowing

Sales during the weeks leading up to Christmas often make a significant contribution to retailers’ profits. For many consumers, it is a time to spend money on food, presents and decorations and this often means increased borrowing.

Data indicate that borrowing by consumers in the lead-up to Christmas increased by the biggest amount for almost 8 years: a figure of £1.5 billion. As a result, there were likely to have been many happy families at Christmas, with lots of gifts being exchanged. But what does this mean for the New Year? There are concerns about the increase we will see in consumer debt throughout 2016 and the number of borrowers who will, perhaps, be unable to repay their debts.

Could this significant increase in borrowing be a signal that we haven’t learnt from our past? This article from BBC News considers the borrowing data and their implications.

Borrowing jumped ahead of Christmas, Bank of England says BBC News, Brian Milligan (4/01/16)

Questions

  1. Is borrowing good or bad for the economy? Explain your answer.
  2. If borrowing is good for the economy, why are there concerns about the current level of borrowing?
  3. How will this higher level of borrowing affect aggregate demand? Use an AD/AS diagram to explain the impact this will have.
  4. Could this higher level of borrowing affect unemployment and inflation? In what ways?
  5. If interest rates had been higher, do you think the level of consumer borrowing would have been lower?
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Bridging The Gap

The Gap has been a fixture of UK High Streets for many years and has had both ups and downs. In a highly competitive market, it faces fierce rivals from other high street retailers and also from an increasingly important online presence. Same-shop sales for Gap fell in July by 7% and the brand is now finding itself in a tricky position.

Although the Gap does sell products at a variety of prices, even sales growth in its most affordable line was not sufficient to offset declines elsewhere. It’s not just the UK where this decline is observed, with 175 Gap specialty shops in America being shut down over the next year. This will inevitably mean job losses. So why is Gap struggling so much, after being such a popular brand?

Its competitors are arguably offering a very similar product, but at a lower price. Consumers, being increasingly aware of prices and having many more options to make price comparisons, are perhaps using this information to make better choices. If they don’t believe that they are getting something extra from paying a slightly higher price at Gap, then they’d prefer to get the same thing elsewhere, from somewhere like Forever 21 or H&M. Some also suggest that the product itself is out of date and with the world of high fashion being such an important part of life for many people, an out-of-date product is bad news. That, together with consumers finding more and more things that they can spend their money on, beyond clothes has led to a tricky position for the Gap.

A key part of maintaining a presence on high streets has been sales and special offers – this has been a key element in keeping customers coming, but it is certainly not a long term strategy. Research analysts have been investigating some of the key aspects of the Gap and various comments have been made, including:

“Uniformity is no longer cool… The trick now is convincing your customer that they’re getting something unique.” (Simeon Siegel), Nomura Securities.

“Of top priority is delivering more consistent and compelling product collections.” Kari Shellhorn, Gap spokeswomen.

“Whether it’s colour or print or it’s pattern, the Gap brand hasn’t been kept up to date … Until they have their product right, I think we’ll continue to see them have promotions.” Dana Telsey, Telsey Advisory Group.

The future of Gap is certainly in the balance and with an increasingly competitive market when it comes to retail, an effective strategy to maintain and increase its market share will be essential.

Why Gap is in a tight squeeze BBC News, Gianna Palmer (20/8/15)
Gap Inc sees some potential for next year but Q2 2015 remains weak Forbes, Investing, Trefis Team (24/8/15)

Questions

  1. What sort of figure would you expect Gap’s clothes to have and why?
  2. Into which market structure would you place the retail industry? What does this tell us about how a company such as Gap can hope to make profits?
  3. If you were advising Gap, what strategies would you propose as a means of boosting revenue and cutting costs?
  4. The BBC News article states that the fortunes of Gap have been hurt by a strong US dollar. Why may this be the case?
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Comet fall from the sky

For those looking to buy larger electrical appliances at cheaper prices, things might be looking up, as Comet have begun heavy discounting after entering administration. Deloitte, as the administrator, will now begin the search for a buyer for this retailer, while Comet aims to raise the funds to rescue the company.

Comet was bought by OpCapita last year, but with poor performance continuing across the 200+ stores, we could be about to see the demise of this retailer. Over 6,000 jobs are now at risk, although Deloitte has maintained that stores will continue to trade and that redundancies will not be made. One of the administrators said:

‘Our immediate priorities are to stabilise the business, fully assess its financial position, and begin an urgent process to seek a suitable buyer which would also preserve jobs.’

The retail environment has inevitably suffered over the past few years, with well-known companies such as Woolworths, Optical Express and JJB Sports (to name a few) entering administration. Comet, therefore seems to be the latest in a long line of sad trading stories. So, which factors have contributed towards the collapse of this giant retailer?

Over the past few years, online retailers have gained a larger and larger market share. These internet retailers do not have the same overhead costs that Comet and other high street retailers face. To open a store in an area where customers are in high supply, premium rents must be paid and this adds to the cost of running any given store. In order to cover these higher costs, higher prices can result and this, together with consumers facing tight budgets, has led many customers to look at the cheaper alternatives online. Deloitte has also said that Comet has been suffering from a lack of credit, which has meant that it has not been able to purchase stock in the run-up to Christmas. Deloitte commented that:

‘The inability to obtain supplier credit for the peak Christmas trading period means that the company had no realistic prospect of raising further capital to build up sufficient stock to allow it to continue trading.’

Concerned customers are naturally emerging, wondering whether items they have ordered and paid for will actually turn up. However, Deloitte’s reassurance that trading will continue may go some way to relieving their concern. The following articles consider how Comet has fallen from the sky.

Comet officially enters administration, stores re-open for expected firesale The Telegraph, Graham Ruddick and Helia Ebrahimi (2/11/12)
Comet calls in Deloitte as administrators BBC News (2/11/12)
Apple sky-high as Comet falls to earth The Guardian, Zoe Wood (2/11/12)
Comet enters administration, Deloitte seeks buyer Reuters (2/11/12)
Comet electricals administrators formally begin search for saviour The Guardian, Zoe Wood (2/11/12)
Comet goes into administration Financial Times, Andrea Felsted (3/11/12)
Comet collapse: Deloitte blames internet and lack of first-time home buyers The Telegraph(2/11/12)
Collapse of Comet puts 7000 jobs in danger Independent, James Thompson (2/11/12)

Questions

  1. Why does the retail environment remain very weak?
  2. Explain why Deloitte suggest that a lack of first time home buyers has played a part in the demise of Comet.
  3. Why has a lack of credit contributed towards Comet’s downfall?
  4. Should customers be concerned about how Comet’s demise (if indeed a buyer is not found) might affect prices in other retailers such as Currys, given that they will now have a larger share of the market?
  5. Why has online trading contributed towards the harsher retail environment for the high street stores? You should think about fixed and variable costs in your answer.
  6. Why are companies such as Apple doing so well relative to other companies, such as Comet and JJB Sports? Is there a secret to their success?
  7. What impact might this collapse have on local labour markets, given Comet employs so many people? Think about the effect on wages, unemployment and on claimants of benefits.
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This will give Tesco some food for thought

After weak Christmas trading, Tesco issued a profit warning – its first in 20 years. Following this, their shares fell in value by some £5bn, but this was met with an announcement of the creation of 20,000 jobs in the coming years, as part of a project to train staff, improve existing stores and open new ones. Yet, Tesco has reported another quarter of falling sales.

Trading times have been challenging and the fact that the UK’s biggest supermarket is struggling is only further evidence to support this. In the 13 weeks to the 26th May 2012, Tesco reported a decline in like-for-like sales of 1.5%. Although much of the £1bn investment in Tesco is yet to be spent, the fact that sales have fallen for a full year must be of concern, not only to its Chief Executive, but also to analysts considering the economic future for the UK.

Consumer confidence remains low and together with tight budgets, shoppers are continuing to be very cautious of any unnecessary spending. Part of Tesco’s recent drive to drum up sales has been better customer service and a continuing promotion war with the other supermarkets. This particular sector is highly competitive and money-off coupons and other such promotions plays a huge part in the competitive process. Whilst low prices are obviously crucial, this is one sector where non-price competition can be just as important.

Although Tesco sales in the UK have been nothing to shout about – the Chief Executive said their sales performance was ‘steady’ – its total global sales did increase by 2.2%. The Chief Executive, Mr Clarke said:

‘Internationally, like-for-like sales growth proved resilient, despite slowing economic growth in China…Against the backdrop of continued uncertainty in the eurozone, it is pleasing to see that our businesses have largely sustained their performance.’

A boost for UK sales did come with the Jubilee weekend and with the Olympics just round the corner, Tesco will be hoping for a stronger end to the year than their beginning. The following articles consider Tesco’s sales and the relative performance of the rest of the sector.

Tesco’s quarterly sales hit by ‘challenging’ trading BBC News (11/6/12)
Tesco UK arm notches up one year of falling sales Guardian, Zoe Wood (11/6/12)
Tesco upbeat despite new sales dip Independent, Peter Cripps (11/6/12)
Tesco sales seen lower in first quarter Reuters, James Davey(11/6/12)
The Week Ahead: Tesco set to admit it is losing ground to rivals Independent, Toby Green (11/6/12)
Tesco’s performance in the UK forecast to slip again Telegraph, Harry Wallop (10/6/12)
Tesco: What the analysts say Retail Week, Alex Lawson (11/6/12)
Supermarkets issue trading updates The Press Association (9/6/12)
The Week Ahead: Supermarkets prepare to give City food for thought Scotsman, Martin Flanagan (11/6/12)
Asda’s sales growth accelerates Reuters, James Davey (17/5/12)
Asda sales increase helped by Tesco Telegraph, Harry Wallop (18/5/12)
Tesco v. Sainsbury’s in trading update battle Manchester Evening News (11/6/12)
Sainsbury’s out-trades Tesco on UK food sales Independent, James Thompson (10/6/12)

Questions

  1. Using some examples, explain what is meant by non-price competition.
  2. Why has Tesco been losing ground to its competitors?
  3. Given the products that Tesco sells (largely necessities), why have sales been falling, despite household’s tight budgets?
  4. Into which market structure would you place the supermarket sector? Explain your answer by considering each of the assumptions behind the market structure you choose.
  5. Why have Tesco’s rivals been gaining ground on Tesco?
  6. How might this latest sales data affect Tesco’s share prices?
  7. Based on what the analysts are saying about the food sector, can we deduce anything about the future of the UK economy in the coming months?
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Edinburgh Woollen Mill and Peacocks

It’s not the first retailer to go into administration and it won’t be the last, but the well-known high street retailer Peacocks will continue to trade for the foreseeable future thanks to Edinburgh Woolen Mill.

The administrators were called in at the beginning of 2012, as Peacocks total debt reach £750 million and it was unable to restructure £240 million of this debt. Edinburgh Woollen Mill has bought the company out of administration, protecting 6000 jobs in the UK. However, at the same time more than 3000 workers will be made redundant, as 224 stores cease trading.

Throughout the recession, retailers across the UK have been struggling, as household incomes have remained low, causing consumer spending to fall. One of the administrators from KMPG, commented that:

‘This (the low consumer demand), combined with a surplus of stores and unsustainable capital structure, led to the business becoming financially unviable.’

The coming months will be crucial in determining whether more jobs are lost and if there are any further store closures. Much hinges on the ability of Edinburgh Woollen Mill to stabilize the financial performance of Peacocks and stimulate renewed customer demand. The following articles consider this take-over.

Peacocks closes 19 Ulster stores with 263 job losses Belfast Telegraph (23/2/12)
Peacocks Takeover: Edinburgh Woollen Mill buy retailer but 3,100 jobs lost BBC News (including video) (22/2/12)
Peacocks piqued by PIKs Guardian, Nils Pratley (22/2/12)
Edinburgh Woollen Mill buys Peacocks Independent, James Thompson (23/2/12)
Peacocks sold to Edinburgh Woollen Mill – KPMG The Wall Street Journal, Jessica Hodgson (23/2/12)

Questions

  1. Why has consumer demand in the retails sector fallen during the recession?
  2. What type of take-over would you classify this as?
  3. Who are Peacocks’ main competitors? In which market structure would you place the retail sector? Explain your answer.
  4. The Guardian article refers to the Management-buy-out of Peacocks in 2005. What is a management-buy-out? What were the problems associated with it?
  5. What are the problems that have been identified as causing Peacocks to go into administration?
  6. To what extent do you think the Management-buy-out of 2005 is the main reason why Peacocks has fallen into administration?
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Recession not inevitable

There has been much talk of a double-dip recession, with many suggesting that the UK economy is already in a recession. However, according to the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), a recession is not inevitable. Although the businesses surveyed showed that the economy had significantly weakened, John Longworth the Director General of the BCC said that a ‘new recession is not a foregone conclusion’.

Even though many of the figures showed a continued weakening of the economy, the results are still not as bad as they were back in 2008. The concern is that if the weakness continues, as it is predicted to do in the first quarter of 2012, confidence will remain low and then the economy may stagnate and a recession becomes a more likely scenario. Action is needed to prevent this from happening, especially with the eurozone crisis still causing concern. As John Longworth said:

The UK does have the potential to recover and make its way in the world. We have the talent, the energy and the enterprise. All we need is an environment that puts business first.

At the beginning of December 2011, many analysts thought retail sales would remain low, as they had been throughout 2011. However, British consumers came through in the second half of December and retail sales were up by 4.1% compared with a year ago. According to the British Retail Consortium, this Christmas rush should not be seen as a fundamental change in the direction of the economy and will have done little to boost the overall annual sales of most retailers.

Recession ‘not foregone conclusion’ Guardian (10/1/12)
UK economy likely to shrink amid eurozone crisis, says BCC The Telegraph, Angela Monaghan (10/1/12)
UK recession is not yet inevitable, survey says BBC News (10/1/12)
UK risks recession and lengthy stagnation – BCC Reuters, David Milliken (10/1/12)
U.K recession fears build Wall Street Journal, Ilona Billington (10/1/12)
BoE stimulus expansion may not be enough for recovery, BCC says (quick ad before article appears) Business Week, Scott Hamilton (10/1/12)

Questions

  1. How is a recession defined?
  2. What data has the BCC used to come to the conclusion that a recession is not inevitable?
  3. What action is needed by the government to tackle ‘short term stagnation and a lack of business confidence’?
  4. What could explain the 4.1% increase in sales in December compared with the previous year? Why is this data not thought to represent a ‘fundamental change in the circumstances of UK consumers’?
  5. What is expected to happen to UK inflation and employment during the first quarter of 2012?
  6. Why does the eurozone crisis present a problem for confidence and British exporters?
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Unemployment down

There’s been a lot of bad news about the economy, but perhaps things are looking up. Inflation is now at 4% and the latest data suggests that unemployment has fallen, with more jobs being created in the private sector. An estimated 143,000 jobs were created, many of which were full-time and the ILO measure if unemployment is down by some 17,000. There is still some doom and gloom, as growth in annual average earnings has fallen slightly and this will undoubtedly affect retail sales. Numbers claiming JSA have also increased marginally to 1.5 million and youth unemployment has seen a small increase to 20.4%. A big area of concern is that unemployment might rise in the coming months due to the time lag. Growth in the last quarter of 2010 was negative and this could increase unemployment when the full effects are felt in the labour market later in the year. Howard Archer, the Chief Economist at HIS Global Insight had this to say about the latest data.

‘Despite the overall firmer tone of the latest labour market data, we retain the view that unemployment is headed up over the coming months. We suspect that likely below-trend growth will mean that the private sector will be unable to fully compensate for the increasing job losses in the public sector that will result from the fiscal squeeze that is now really kicking in. Indeed, we believe that private sector companies will become increasingly careful in their employment plans in the face of a struggling economy and elevated input costs.’

The wage price spiral hasn’t begun as many though, and this may encourage the Bank of England to keep interest rates down, especially as inflation has come down to 4% and concerns about growth still remain. So despite good news about unemployment overall falling, young workers, women and public sector workers have not benefited. Youth unemployment is up, more women are claiming JSA and more jobs in the public sector are expected to be cut this year. The following articles consider the implications.

UK Unemployment: What the experts say Guardian (13/4/11)
Good news on jobs BBC News blogs: Stephanomics, Stephanie Flanders (13/4/11)
Unemployment falls, but young are left on the shelf Independent, Sean O’Grady (14/4/11)
Unemployment falls but jobs market remains fragile Telegraph, Louisa Peacock (14/4/11)
UK unemployment data reveals downturn victims as jobless total drops Guardian, Heather Stewart (13/4/11)
FTSE boosted by dip in unemployment The Press Association (14/4/11)
Unemployment falls: reaction (including video) Telegraph (14/4/11)

Questions

  1. What is the ILO method of measuring unemployment?
  2. To what extent does the change in unemployment and inflation conform with the Phillips curve?
  3. What can explain the fall in the unemployment rate, despite the decline in the economy in the last quarter of 2010?
  4. Explain how the FTSE was affected by the lower unemployment rate.
  5. Why is unemployment expected to rise later this year?
  6. Why has there been a rise in the numbers claiming JSA, despite unemployment falling?
  7. What is meant by the wage-price spiral and why has it not occured?
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