Maybe it is hardly surprising if consumers don’t want to spend sunny days holed up in dimly-lit coffee shops, supping extra-hot lattes.
Opportunities for the kind of summer basking we were all able to enjoy this year come round all too infrequently, so who can blame Costa’s customers if they decided to head to the beach?
But it is tempting to think firms can overstate the impact of the climate on their trading performance. Companies blame poor figures on bad weather one quarter and good weather the next, when the reality is that business continues whether your customers need an umbrella or not.
The far more interesting factor revealed by hotel and restaurant group Whitbread’s summer results is the suggestion that the provincial chattering classes could be cutting back.
CEO Andy Harrison said he thinks improvements in consumer sentiment and increases in spending are limited to London, with the picture outside the M25 much flatter.
“Wages are rising slower than inflation, particularly energy bills,” he says. “Outside of London the consumer has less money to spend.”
Costa has been a coffee and cake juggernaut for years, expanding voraciously and hoovering up sales increases like they’re going out of fashion. Hundreds more new outlets and sophisticated vending machines are planned, across the UK and internationally, during the current year.
Mr Harrison might seek to halt doom-merchants in their tracks by emphasising that one quarter of reduced underlying sales growth does not a slowdown make, but he does have a point.
The cost of living continues to rise, while wages remain depressed. It is easy to see how cutting back on the £2.50 coffees or accompanying pastries might help bring household budgets back into line.
If the summer slowdown does prove to be more than sunshine-related, Costa and its ambitious growth targets will have to confront it.
But, in thinking about all of this, what struck me most of all was Mr Harrison’s privileged position as something of an economic barometer.
He has innumerable outlets across the UK and worldwide, and any movement in Costa’s like-for-like sales can only be directly related to its customers’ discretionary spend. It comes down to whether there’s enough left for a coffee after the weekly supermarket big shop.
Last week in this space I bemoaned the slew of business surveys distinguishing the start of a new month. Though many are highly-regarded and provide a firm historical basis for their claims, they all have an element of finger-in-the-wind thanks in no small part to their small sample sizes and abstract measures of confidence or productivity.
They have been almost exclusively positive of late, revealing increased orders, more jobs, more customers.
Today, the Scottish Retail Consortium hails an “August sales boost” amid greater optimism for the economy.
There’s no way of truly knowing if that pattern is because people genuinely feel better off, because they believe the line about the economy having “turned the corner”, or if they are sick of austerity and going back to their credit cards and overdrafts to fund stress-relieving treats.
Some fairground sideshows would have you believe they can read the future in tea leaves. It strikes me that you may be able to read more about consumers’ present fortunes in the coffee beans.
* The bank that likes to say Yes struggled with a big no-no as it made its reappearance after 17 years on Monday.
Almost inevitable IT glitches plagued TSB’s return, with many locked out of their accounts.
The split was always going to be tricky. Bank systems have moved on immeasurably since TSB was last a familiar brand on our high streets in the mid-1990s, and unpicking it from Lloyds was bound to lead to confusion and complications for those who have accounts with one or the other, or both.
TSB’s bosses and media managers had been keen to promote the new kid on the block as “fundamentally different” from its competitors, without the worst excesses of so-called “casino banking”, and in the best traditions of the Trustee Savings Bank movement established by the Rev Henry Duncan in Ruthwell, Dumfriesshire, more than 200 years ago.
That could yet prove to be the case, but putting up a few new signs and setting up a fresh website are only the very first steps. TSB will need to time to develop its own ways of working, its product offering and its identity. And, while still owned by Lloyds Banking Group for the moment, it looks set to be floated within a matter of months.
It’s a shame the returning brand was afflicted with the technical gremlins of its forebears, but here’s hoping it can become a true player in the retail market once teething troubles are out of the way.