Page last updated at 15:55 GMT, Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Business feels the winter chill

By Shanaz Musafer
Business reporter, BBC News

Heavy snow and icy conditions have caused travel chaos up and down the UK.

The severe weather in parts of the country has led to police forces warning motorists to take extra care, with some people being advised not to travel on affected routes unless absolutely necessary.

Although most businesses say it is too early to count the costs of the winter weather, they are beginning to feel the impact. Here is how some industries have been affected.

INSURERS

The AA has had its work cut out over the last few days, dealing with accidents and breakdowns caused by icy roads and heavy snowfall.

Abandoned cars in Basingstoke
Hundreds of cars have broken down or been abandoned

Between midnight and 0900 GMT, the AA had been called to about 3,000 breakdowns and accidents across the UK.

By the end of the day, the motoring organisation expects to have attended about 114,000 breakdowns and accidents since Friday - its busiest period in 10 years.

The group says that on Monday alone, it had seen 620 insurance claims, "about 40% above what we would expect on a normal December day".

That's the highest number of claims the group has seen in one day since 2 February, when it dealt with more than 800 accident claims, caused by snow falls that were more widespread than the current ones.

Insurers say it is too early to give an idea of costs, but they may not necessarily face higher payouts as, although there are more accidents, they tend to be less expensive.

"Fortunately, the nature of snow and ice-related claims is such that the majority of accidents are at a relatively slow speed, so there is more injury to pride than physical injury," Simon Douglas, director of AA Insurance, says.

"Similarly, the average claim cost will be in the hundreds rather than the thousands."

A spokesperson for Aviva added: "Overall costs don't go up so much as people tend to drive more cautiously."

THE HIGH STREET

Snow falls on Oxford Street in central London
High Street sales are likely to have been affected by the snow

Christmas is traditionally the most important time of year for retailers - it's when they make most of their money.

So have shoppers been braving the freezing weather to hit the shops?

Not according to Dr Tim Denison from the market research firm Synovate.

"Christmas shoppers were badly caught out by the weather in parts of the country last week. It seems that droves of people were simply put off venturing out in the snow and ice and retailing was one of the main casualties," he says.

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) admits that the wintry conditions have affected shoppers' behaviour, but says the extent of the impact will not be clear until next month.

"But most shoppers aren't letting the weather stop them buying their Christmas presents," says Tom Ironside from the BRC.

"We'll get a clearer idea of what impact the snow has had on retail sales in mid-January when we publish our next Retail Sales Monitor."

DELIVERIES

Anyone still waiting for their Christmas presents to be delivered may be starting to feel anxious as to whether they will arrive in time.

A postman delivers mail in the snow

Royal Mail says that 95% of its operations are running normally and it expects "virtually all of the seasonal postbag" to be delivered by Christmas.

But it admits that disruption has been caused in a small number of areas.

Meanwhile, supermarkets have also been experiencing delays.

"Where the weather is really bad we are sending colleagues out in taxis, meeting our customers half way and extending our delivery time to Christmas Eve," Asda says.

Sainsbury's says up to 1% of its orders are disrupted, while Tesco has also increased its staffing to cope with disruption.

Online retail giant Amazon says it is still dispatching customer orders, but some may experience short delays, though they should still arrive by Christmas.

However, John Lewis says that while it is working to minimise any disruption, it acknowledges that delays are likely.

"Where we discover that customers are going to be affected, we are contacting them to let them know and helping them find alternative solutions at their local John Lewis," the company says.

EUROSTAR

Eurostar passengers queue outside St Pancras station

The breakdown of several Eurostar trains over the weekend - after snow got into the electrical systems - has led to tens of thousands of passengers having their travel plans thrown into chaos.

Eurostar is working to clear the backlog but is not expected to return to a full service until after Christmas.

Having offered refunds to all of those affected, it is expected to find itself out of pocket to the tune of about £10m.

However, airlines have been quick to capitalise on the company's troubles.

British Airways and Flybe both increased capacity on flights between London and Paris to help ease the situation.



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