Posted: 20/01/2022

Omicron and staff shortages fail to ruin Christmas as indies trade well


Despite the threat of Omicron and staff shortages, independent retailers across the UK seem to have got the Christmas they needed – thanks in part to a late surge in sales.

Several retailers that FFD spoke to in January all reported year-on-year sales increases in their stores, but the lion’s share of them came in the last few days before 25th December.

While none of these retailers experienced the anticipated supply chain issues, most experienced some level of staffing disruption due to COVID infections and isolation periods.

Bayley & Sage founder Jennie Allen, who has nine stores across West London, told FFD that at one point in December she had 24 members of staff off sick.

“I’m not going to remember sales this Christmas – although they were good – I’m actually going to remember it for thinking ‘How are we going to keep trading?’”

Allen said that sales came very late this year, describing the final two days before Christmas as “mental”. While caviar was especially popular, Allen said that generally, customers were not too adventurous.  “When people are stressed they go for tradition,” she said.

Sales also surged late at Farmer Copleys farm shop in Pontefract, West Yorkshire. 

“Early December looked a little quiet then when Christmas finally came we were up on last year. Just,” said co-owner Rob Copley, crediting the return of the site’s café for the rise.

“Between Christmas and New Year, wow, I don’t know where it came from but we got absolutely hammered,” he added, reporting 10% upswing in retail sales on last year’s and a fully booked café.

Clare Jackson of Slate, which has two cheese shops in Suffolk, told FFD that she was worried two weeks before Christmas because sales were underperforming, and she was short-staffed. 

However, sales picked up in the last week and trade was up overall. “We felt that people were leaving their shopping late because they didn’t know who was going to be around the table,” she said, adding that her biggest triumph was maintaining the same level of online sales as those during 2020’s locked-down Christmas.

At Indie Füde in Northern Ireland, founder Johnny McDowell said Christmas had exceeded expectations because both the public and corporate customers gained last year had returned. The latter group – because of gifts to staff in lieu of a Christmas party – gave overall sales a little bump.

John Sinclair at Craigies farm shop, near Edinburgh, said he was concerned in the run-up to Christmas about Scotland’s stricter whole household isolation rules affecting his team numbers, but made it through relatively unscathed.

He said that year-on-year sales were around 5% up. A decent portion of these sales came earlier, with online orders even being placed before December.

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