How did your important sales in December and January’s back to school compare to the previous year? Sport, outdoor and lifestyle retailers who so far responded to our annual holiday sales survey are not too optimistic – but on the upside, none of the respondents so far reported a disastrous season. Please let us know what your December and January sales looked like by completing the short survey (anonymous unless you supply your name) so that we can get a comprehensive picture of what happened in the industry.

So far, the 40% respondents who describe their December sales as ‘disappointing’are off-set by an equal number who said the sales were about what they expected and 20% who said it was better than expected.

More specifically, a quarter of the respondents reported that their December sales were 10-20% more than the previous year … a fifth reported no change, but another fifth said that their sales were 20% and more less than the previous year.

As in the previous tough retail years, customers mainly bought mid-priced functional items (report 80%) and entry-level necessities (30%) in December. Due to the early start of the school year, 20% respondents reported that customers bought back-to-school items in December.

So far January does not promise fireworks – although 15% said that the year started exceptionally well with sales more than 20% higher. But, about half of the traders said their January sales were either slightly down, or about the same as last year – which wasn’t a good year at all.

Black Friday seems to have become a fait accompli and November is therefore now also viewed as a significant trading month. Last year November retail sales were 3.1% higher than in November 2017, reports Statistics SA  – the highest retail sales growth in 8 months. In November textiles, clothing and footwear sales grew 4.2% and sales in general dealers 3.7%, while most growth came from furniture, appliances and equipment (13.5% up).

Judging by the feedback from industry respondents the inevitability of Black Friday is also being accepted – albeit grudgingly. Only a fifth said it had a negative impact on December sales as their customers did their Christmas shopping in November at discount prices. But, 39% said it had a positive effect because it helped them clear old stock and 22% said their discounts attracted new customers.

One of the major factors that affected the independents selling performance and lifestyle footwear and clothing was the announcement by big international brands (mainly Nike) that it is closing their accounts without providing any reason … in some instances after 45, 40, 38, 25 years of selling the brand without defaulting on accounts. “Betrayed” was how most described their feelings about this.

Retailers who responded so far (90% independents) are unfortunately not very optimistic about the year ahead: half of them believe the economy will remain weak in 2019 and 45% said they don’t expect much change from 2018, which was pretty horrible for most traders, with a few bright exceptions.

Do you agree with these respondents? Add your voice to the survey respondents, as the more retailers respond, the more accurate the survey results will be.