Diamond jubilee lifts hopes for UK retailers

Experts predict high-street sales of as much as £823m over four-day weekend to help recoup losses from spring slump

As a nation downs tools to celebrate the four-day weekend thanks to the Queen's 60 years on the throne, the biggest winners are almost certain to be retailers.

Experts believe we could spend as much as £823m, a significant boost to flagging sales figures.

If it is red, white and blue it is flying off the shelves, according to several retailers, with sales of 30,000 official jubilee tea towels, 3,000 B&Q royal garden gnomes and 1,500 miles of Tesco bunting. Jubilee T-shirt sales at Debenhams are up 190%.

But while businesses boast how much they have sold in the build up to this weekend, analysts and experts are more cautious. Sarah Peters, retail analyst at Verdict Research, said: "It is worth remembering that we've had a month of poor weather in May, which has kept shoppers away, so this weekend is more about recouping the losses."

Sarah Cordley at the British Retail Consortium (BRC) agrees: "There'll be a feel-good factor that should lift sales, but the weather also plays an important part.

"In April last year we had the royal wedding and spectacular weather, but this April there was no big event and poor weather, sending like-for-like sales down 3%. Retailers will be hoping for a similar uplift this month.

"So, while the celebrations will bring income to retailers, they may not get the boost they'll be hoping for without some decent weather."

The Office for National Statistics also revealed that sales growth cooled in April to its slowest rate for two years, with sales volumes suffering their biggest fall, 1%, year on year since August 2011.

The big winners from the weekend will be food retailers in particular, with supermarkets expecting the biggest sales of the year, after Easter.

The big four have packed their shelves with offers, special TV commercials are now running and extraordinary statistics are being released.

Waitrose expects to sell 46m strawberries in two weeks, while sales of Pimm's are up 260% on the same period last year and English wine is expected to have its best ever week.

Sainsbury's said it sold more salad packs, prepared fruit, burgers and rolls on Friday than any other Friday in its 143-year history.

Tesco said it has sold nearly half-a-million royal family face masks and 2.86m waving flags – the fastest selling item last week, earning it the biggest party sales since the millennium.

Peters from Verdict said: "The high street stores will do particularly well because people will want to go shopping then perhaps head for a meal, or meet with friends. If anyone is going to miss out it will be the big out-of-town shopping centres."

Footfall is also expected to grow. Diane Wehrle, research director at Springboard, said: "Last year's royal wedding was proof that community celebrations and local events can help drive large numbers of shoppers to the high streets as footfall across the weekend rose 7.9% year-on-year. This year we are predicting an even greater influx."

Exact predictions of how much will ring through the tills are hard to come by, although Moneysupermarket.com has plumped for £823m.

This is unsurprising, when there is still a gulf on estimates spent at the royal wedding from £480m (BRC), £515m (Centre of Retail Research) and £620m (Verdict).

Whether patriotism is at a new high is not known. But what is clear is flags are in high demand.

On Amazon, seven of the top 10 bestselling home and garden products are jubilee-related – flags, bunting, hats and balloons.

Peters said: "Anything with the flag on it is selling well, but this cannot just be attributed to the jubilee, the upcoming Olympics is also adding to the sense of national pride."

In John Lewis, union flag cutlery sales were up 22% and 30% of the bestselling cushions were emblazoned with the flag.

But it seems experts are taking these one-off events more seriously, in terms of economic benefit, especially with a summer boasting the Olympics, European football championships and a jubilee.

They have become so important, even the ONS has taken notice and recently revealed a special events policy to study the effects of future celebrations.


Simon Neville

The GuardianTramp

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