LONDON — Britain’s beleaguered retailers have just been dealt one more rare challenge: snow.
This story first appeared in the February 3, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Since fall, the British capital’s retailers have been wrestling with the global credit crunch, a recession, increasingly spooked consumers, and the rising cost of goods due to the falling value of the pound. Now they’re dealing with the fallout from the worst snowstorm to hit Britain in 18 years. More than six inches of snow fell Sunday night, with intermittent storms continuing through Monday, and more inclement weather expected today.
The bigger retailers remained open, but admitted footfall had dropped due to the weather. Smaller stores were forced to close due to a dearth of staff and customers.
Schools closed; bus and London Underground services were crippled for most of the day; Heathrow cancelled more than half its flights; roads were covered in ice, and over ground train passengers were told to stay home if possible.
“The weather has created a number of difficulties for retailers who are already tackling tough conditions because of the economy,” said Richard Dodd, a spokesman for the British Retail Consortium.
He tried, however, to put the day’s events into perspective: “It’s clearly caused some short-term disruption, but it won’t have a significant impact on the retail figures for the month. What’s had impact is the recession.”
Smaller, rather than larger, retailers appeared to be bearing the brunt of the storm, which was moving westward from Russia. “We’re not going to open today as our staff can’t get to Covent Garden,” said a spokeswoman for makeup brand Jelly Pong Pong. “It’s not good, as Monday is our busiest day, and in this climate we can’t afford not to be open.”
In Covent Garden, Shu Uemura, French Connection and Ugg all closed for the day at 11:30 a.m., while Mango said the shop floor was virtually deserted on Monday morning.
“There’s one person shopping, and this is the busiest we’ve been all day, so it’s not very good for us,“ said Jade Newark, the store’s supervisor.
Larger retailers such as Selfridges, Harvey Nichols and Harrods kept to normal business hours, but said staff had problems getting into work.
“Customers were here at 9:30 a.m. when we opened,” said a Selfridges spokeswoman. “We are slightly less busy, but it’s first thing Monday morning. Some of our staff haven’t been able to make it in, but others are coming in a bit later.”
A Harrods spokesman said it was business as usual despite the strange weather.
“Harrods opened today at the normal time. We will be constantly assessing the weather and making decisions about store opening times based on these observations. However, at the moment we are planning to open as normal throughout the week,” he said.
A spokeswoman for Marks & Spencer said the snow caused minimal disruptions on Monday.
“There are no plans to close stores tomorrow at this point. It all depends on the weather conditions. Some stores had staffing issues and didn’t open today, and a few are closing early. Like most retailers, some stores are closing up a little bit early today,” she said.
Meanwhile, one store in Primrose Hill saw a flurry of consumer activity, no doubt due to the closure of schools and consumers’ decisions not to go to work.
“It’s been unusually busy for a Monday,” said a spokeswoman for Lost in Beauty, a cosmetics store in Primrose Hill, north London.
“It’s been really positive and people are in a good mood. We’re seeing people we wouldn’t normally see on a Monday — families and couples who are embracing the weather fully.”