According to the Horticultural Trades Association’s latest Market Update, consumer financial confidence has increased by three points in November. The major purchase index has also increased by seven points, indicating consumers’ willingness to purchase large ticket items in the lead up to Christmas. However, with the new COVID variant and government measures introduced to reduce its impact, any affects on sales and footfall in the first part of December are yet to be reported.
Christmas shopping is now in full swing and though the sale of Christmas products was down 11% compared to November 2020, they were up 38% from November 2019. Lights and tree decorations were both down 12% from November 2020’s sales, which were likely impacted by lockdown. Still, they were up significantly from November 2019 (lights +98%; Tree decorations +93%). Sales of artificial Christmas trees have been on par with sales from 2019 and down 32% from 2020. This could be because artificial trees have a longer product lifecycle, which could have been shifted forward to last year as consumers looked for different ways of making a restricted Christmas cheerier. Real Christmas tree sales have also increased from 2019, up by an impressive 42%.
Though this is good news for retailers, the consumer issues tracker showed one in four British adults see the pandemic as a concerning issue and it seems likely that the emergence of the new variant will likely cause increased concern and behavioural changes, influencing consumer confidence and garden centre sales.
The major issue consumers listed as their main concern during November 2021 was pollution/climate change, with four in ten people stating it was a worry to them – the highest since its inclusion in the survey in 1988, probably due to largescale media coverage of the COP26 conference.
In employment news, the UK unemployment rate had lowered to 4.3% in September 2021 as the job market continues to recover from the effects of the pandemic. However, the total job vacancies reached another record high with 1.17 million vacancies; more than 300,00 higher than pre pandemic times. This is likely to continue to cause issues for businesses struggling to negotiate the highly competitive recruitment market. The HTA continues to lobby government for support in easing some of the pressure through changes to the Seasonal Worker Pilot Scheme.