Retail news round-up: Unhappy returns; Brits are top online shoppers; fast-falling non-food prices; New Year honours

The continued surge in online shopping will see over £2.5bn of unwanted Christmas presents returned to retailers, according to LCP Consulting. Stuart Higgins, its director of retail, says: ‘The price retailers have to pay for online growth is pretty substantial.’

UK consumers lead the world when it comes to internet shopping, with an average of £2,175 spent on online purchases in 2016 – more than double the average of any comparable country. They are also the biggest users of click-and-collect services, according to Ofcom’s annual International Communications Market Report.

Shop prices slid deeper into deflationary territory in December, falling 0.6% on the previous year compared to the 0.1% in November, according to the BRC-Nielsen Shop Price Index. Non-food prices fell at their fastest rate since January 2017, declining 2.1% year on year compared to 1.1% in November.

Chrissie Rucker, founder of The White Company, and husband Nicholas Wheeler, who set up Charles Tyrwhitt Shirts, were both recognised with OBEs in the New Year’s Honours list for their services to the retail industry. John Athwal, MD of supplier Premier Decorations also receives an OBE, for his services to business and charity.

Footfall dropped significantly on New Year’s Eve across the UK, declining by –10.5% over the 24 hours and by -7.2% between 7pm and midnight, according to Springboard. This follows drops in footfall on Boxing Day (-4.5%) and over the period from 27th to 30th December (-2.3%). Over the four-day period post Boxing Day, retail parks remained the most resilient with footfall declining by -1.7% against drops of -1.9% in high streets and -3.8% in shopping centres. Footfall recovered on New Year’s Day, rising by +16.8% from New Year’s Day last year.

James Daunt, managing director of Waterstones, has called for business rates to be axed. He told The Times that the tax was ‘hollowing out’ high streets and shifting work to ‘God-awful’ warehouses’, and added that the system was unfair and unnecessary, given that value added tax already more than adequately taxed the high street and the retail sector as a whole.

British software firm Qudini – which helps stores like John Lewis manage queues – claims its services are helping retailers adapt to consumer behaviours that are set to revolutionise physical stores. Qudini – which is betting on the success of the high street after doubling revenues – believes that the question is how to make retail ‘more exciting and more engaging’, with brands ‘becoming responsible for building relationships and building experiences’, as well as selling goods.

Beaverbrooks maintained its tradition of closing on Boxing Day so that all the employees who work in its shops could be at home with their families. The jeweller celebrates its 100th anniversary next year.

As youngsters switch off TV channels in favour of YouTube and Facebook, big brands and toymakers are planning to spend up to $1.2bn annually by 2019 on online advertising targeted at children aged under 13, says PwC.

Scottish National Party consumer affairs spokeswoman Patricia Gibson has described stores which put short ‘use-by’ dates on their gift cards, or hide details about expiry periods, as being like ‘the Grinch who stole Christmas’. She has called for new legislation to either ban expiry dates or at least impose a minimum five-year period, with unspent cash going to charity.

The wealth of Amazon boss Jeff Bezos is now estimated to be just under $100bn after it surged by $34.2bn in 2017, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

Alan Monahan