Yesterday saw Chancellor Rishi Sunak deliver is Autumn Budget and, as retailers, there is room for some cheer, but don’t get too excited. Sunak attempted to help with business rates and business taxes, aimed to speed up recruitment of HGV drivers to tackle the supply chain problems, and looked to offer investment in technology and net zero.
He also upped the minimum wage and scrapped fuel duty rises, both pledges that could see more money in consumer’s pockets and, as a result, encourage more spending.
The upshot is that things may improve across retail in the run up to Peak, but will it be enough? Experts in the industry fear not; only time will tell, but as ever most commentators see it as not going far enough to arrest flagging consumer confidence, head off inflation and end the worrying lack of stock on some shop shelves.
There is no doubt that something needs to be done and fast. A brace of studies out this week indicate that things are conspiring to create trouble for retailers at what should be their busiest time of year.
Prices are rising, confidence is dipping and shoppers are planning to spend less this Christmas. Report after report suggests that things aren’t going well. Will the budget inject enough spends into the system to reverse this, even a bit? With much of it yet to play through the system, probably not in time for Christmas.
That said, we approach every peak with a furrowed brow that this year may not be a good year. Part of me thinks that, if we can survive 2020’s Christmas – which was one of the strangest on record, with shops open briefly between lockdowns and everyone fearful of getting sick – then surely whatever 2021 throws up can’t be as bad. But maybe I am an optimist.
Meanwhile, Sunak’s move to bolster environmental aspects of the economy comes as many retailers and allied organisations are already well on the way to making their own achievements. With COP26 kicking off next week in Scotland, many are already publicising their own strategies, with Sainsbury’s leading the way, hitting its Net Zero target five years ahead of schedule.
However, a new study out this week suggests that, while many retailers understand that consumers want them to be ‘greener and cleaner’, there is still a gap between what retailers say about sustainability and what they do about it.
Helping to close this gap, second-hand fashion marketplace Vinted has broken new ground with a deal to have product placement – including showing characters using its app – embedded in teen soap Hollyoaks on Channel 4. This chimes with its audiences’ mores, but also marks the first time that the world of ‘pre-loved’ clothing has had such a mainstream boost.
There is also evidence out this week that switching to using commercial unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) – drones – to you and me – could halve CO2 emissions from ecommerce deliveries.
This is all well and good for domestic deliveries, but it will do nothing to counter the fact that more shoppers than ever are looking to buy cross-border. A study shows that 57% of them are keen to buy from wherever they can find what they want, regardless of geography – but want to do it sustainably. Now that is a problem that is going to need to be addressed. Maybe Sunak’s pledge to make the UK a technology powerhouse will see us overcome this?