Heavy snow last month left many in the UK housebound

Heavy snow last month left many in the UK housebound

The timing of the pre-Christmas snowfall could hardly have been worse for the UK high street.

Already facing a VAT hike and the fallout from Government spending cuts in 2011, stores could hardly afford any stumbling blocks last month. But heavy snowfall starting a week before Christmas caused havoc for transport networks for the UK, which seem less prepared for snow every time it snows.

Retailers were immediately crippled by the icy weather, which not only hit high street traffic but also affected deliveries of online orders.

Only now is the full extent of the damage being reported. And while weather is often used as a convenient excuse for slumping sales, some real evidence is on the table this time.

Yesterday, for instance, Marks and Spencer reported an estimated GBP50m-GBP55m hit on sales from the adverse weather. Luckily for M&S, an overall upswing in sales managed to offset the damage.

The snow left more of a dent on value fashion retailer New Look today (13 January) though, which reported a 3.4% decline in sales for the 15 weeks to 8 January 2011.

New Look estimated that the heavy snow reduced its sales for the period by GBP15m, or 3%. Although this does not explain the entire decrease, it does represent a large chunk of it.

Next, Mothercare, N Brown, Debenhams and even Tesco have all flagged up the snow as a reason for lower sales too, and the issue is not limited to the UK. Last week a number of US retailers blamed the weather for their sales misses, after snowstorms hit the east and much of the Midwest.

It is hard to believe that such a crucial period for fashion stores could have been scuppered by bad weather, leaving many 'skating on thin ice'.

On the plus side, this could mean that a New Year shopping hangover expected this month could be eased if shoppers have a little more in their pockets than they expected.

Therefore, the overall Christmas picture may be best looked at in February this year - unless it snows again that is.