Five questions answered on Tesco’s and Morrisons’ Christmas sales slide

Why did supermarket sales take a hit?

Morrisons and Tesco have reported a fall in their Christmas sales. We answer five questions on both supermarkets’ lacklustre sales.

By how much has Tesco’s and Morrisons’ sales fallen?

In the six weeks to January 5 2014 Morrisons’ like for like sales fell 5.6 per cent, causing its shares to plummet by 7 per cent.

Tesco's like-for-like sales fell by 2.4 per cent over the festive period. It’s shares fell by 4 per cent.

What have the companies attributed these weaker sales to?

Morrisons believe its sales were weak due to a lack of online presence, as well as competition by cut-price shops, such as Lidl and Aldi. The supermarket is set to enter the online shopping market on Friday, when it will launch a trial in Warwickshire, covering parts of the Midlands.

Tesco simply said the fall in sales was due to a "weaker grocery market" in the UK.

What else did the supermarket giants say?

Morrisons said it was "disappointed" by the sales. In a statement the retailer said:

"The difficult market conditions were intensified for Morrisons by the accelerating importance of the online and convenience channels, where Morrisons is currently under-represented, and by targeted couponing which was particularly prevalent in the market this Christmas."

Tesco, which also saw a 0.7 per cent fall in its overseas sales, said its move to open fewer stores in the UK was also behind the sales drop.

Philip Clarke, chief executive at Tesco, said: "Our overseas performance has improved since the third quarter, driven by an improving trend in Europe. This is despite continuing external challenges, including the recent political disruption in Thailand."

What have the experts said?

Will Hedden, sales trader at spread-betting firm IG, told the BBC: "There is the impression that more and more business is going online, and Morrisons has been slow to come into that area.

"Their online offering is going to need to become pretty good, pretty quickly to compete."

While George Osborne took the release of the figures as an opportunity to say they showed that the industry is "very competitive".

"We have to work through the long-term economic plan that is turning Britain around and we need to make sure we get balanced growth across the whole country and we get investments and exports alongside consumer spending,” he told the BBC.

How did the other big supermarkets do over Christmas?

Sainsburys posted its lowest growth figures for nine years prompting the company to scale back its growth forecast for 2014. It reported this week that its sales had increased by just 0.2 per cent in the 14 weeks to January, despite prices rising by some 2.5 per cent.

Waitrose, on the other hand, revealed on Wednesday a 3.1 per cent rise in underlying sales in the five weeks to Christmas Eve. This was boosted by a 33 per cent rise in online grocery sales.

Co-op reported a 1 per cent rise in underlying sales at its grocery stores in the 13 weeks to 4 January.

A Tesco Express on Clapham High Street. Photograph: Getty Images.

Heidi Vella is a features writer for

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Why relations between Theresa May and Philip Hammond became tense so quickly

The political imperative of controlling immigration is clashing with the economic imperative of maintaining growth. 

There is no relationship in government more important than that between the prime minister and the chancellor. When Theresa May entered No.10, she chose Philip Hammond, a dependable technocrat and long-standing ally who she had known since Oxford University. 

But relations between the pair have proved far tenser than anticipated. On Wednesday, Hammond suggested that students could be excluded from the net migration target. "We are having conversations within government about the most appropriate way to record and address net migration," he told the Treasury select committee. The Chancellor, in common with many others, has long regarded the inclusion of students as an obstacle to growth. 

The following day Hammond was publicly rebuked by No.10. "Our position on who is included in the figures has not changed, and we are categorically not reviewing whether or not students are included," a spokesman said (as I reported in advance, May believes that the public would see this move as "a fix"). 

This is not the only clash in May's first 100 days. Hammond was aggrieved by the Prime Minister's criticisms of loose monetary policy (which forced No.10 to state that it "respects the independence of the Bank of England") and is resisting tougher controls on foreign takeovers. The Chancellor has also struck a more sceptical tone on the UK's economic prospects. "It is clear to me that the British people did not vote on June 23 to become poorer," he declared in his conference speech, a signal that national prosperity must come before control of immigration. 

May and Hammond's relationship was never going to match the remarkable bond between David Cameron and George Osborne. But should relations worsen it risks becoming closer to that beween Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling. Like Hammond, Darling entered the Treasury as a calm technocrat and an ally of the PM. But the extraordinary circumstances of the financial crisis transformed him into a far more assertive figure.

In times of turmoil, there is an inevitable clash between political and economic priorities. As prime minister, Brown resisted talk of cuts for fear of the electoral consequences. But as chancellor, Darling was more concerned with the bottom line (backing a rise in VAT). By analogy, May is focused on the political imperative of controlling immigration, while Hammond is focused on the economic imperative of maintaining growth. If their relationship is to endure far tougher times they will soon need to find a middle way. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.