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 Nridigital.com

Photo: Getty
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Ignored by the media, the Liberal Democrats are experiencing a revival

The crushed Liberals are doing particularly well in areas that voted Conservative in 2015 - and Remain in 2016. 

The Liberal Democrats had another good night last night, making big gains in by-elections. They won Adeyfield West, a seat they have never held in Dacorum, with a massive swing. They were up by close to the 20 points in the Derby seat of Allestree, beating Labour into second place. And they won a seat in the Cotswolds, which borders the vacant seat of Witney.

It’s worth noting that they also went backwards in a safe Labour ward in Blackpool and a safe Conservative seat in Northamptonshire.  But the overall pattern is clear, and it’s not merely confined to last night: the Liberal Democrats are enjoying a mini-revival, particularly in the south-east.

Of course, it doesn’t appear to be making itself felt in the Liberal Democrats’ poll share. “After Corbyn's election,” my colleague George tweeted recently, “Some predicted Lib Dems would rise like Lazarus. But poll ratings still stuck at 8 per cent.” Prior to the local elections, I was pessimistic that the so-called Liberal Democrat fightback could make itself felt at a national contest, when the party would have to fight on multiple fronts.

But the local elections – the first time since 1968 when every part of the mainland United Kingdom has had a vote on outside of a general election – proved that completely wrong. They  picked up 30 seats across England, though they had something of a nightmare in Stockport, and were reduced to just one seat in the Welsh Assembly. Their woes continued in Scotland, however, where they slipped to fifth place. They were even back to the third place had those votes been replicated on a national scale.

Polling has always been somewhat unkind to the Liberal Democrats outside of election campaigns, as the party has a low profile, particularly now it has just eight MPs. What appears to be happening at local by-elections and my expectation may be repeated at a general election is that when voters are presented with the option of a Liberal Democrat at the ballot box they find the idea surprisingly appealing.

Added to that, the Liberal Democrats’ happiest hunting grounds are clearly affluent, Conservative-leaning areas that voted for Remain in the referendum. All of which makes their hopes of a good second place in Witney – and a good night in the 2017 county councils – look rather less farfetched than you might expect. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.