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Clothing sales slow as consumers rein in spending

Women’s footwear, dresses and blouses were the few bright spots in dismal February for clothing sales, according to the latest figures from British Retail Consortium (BRC).

Clothing sales grew by just 0.1% over the month, the smallest gain since August 2009, with store and online sales slowing.  The decline in growth is in line with a slowdown in overall retail sales growth to 1.1%, the weakest growth for nearly two years, as consumer fears about job cuts and tax increases resurfaces. Retail sales grew by 4.5% in February 2010.

Stephen Robertson, director general of the British Retail Consortium, said: “The fundamental expansion of online retailing continues. The growth of online sales of non-food continues to outstrip the performance of store sales as more customers do more shopping via the internet but, over the short term, online is affected by many of the same factors undermining store sales.

“In February, the VAT rise, end of clearance sales and people’s reluctance to spend where they don’t have to all contributed to hold back online growth to its slowest rate for 18 months.”

Clothing

Menswear sales struggled and womenswear showed a “marked decline”, while childrenswear held up thanks to half term and parents deeming clothes for kids more essential than for themselves. New spring trends helped sales of dresses and blouses while formal and smart work wear outperformed casual. Sales of outwear struggled and Valentine’s Day failed to provide any relief for accessories with handbags and jewellery lacklustre for many.

Footwear

Overall footwear sales slowed, particularly in men’s and children’s, although sales of women’s footwear benefited from end of clearance mark downs, notably for ankle boots, and new season ranges. Retailers noted a seasonal shift from boots to shoes as well as a move from casual to smart and formal styles, particularly plain styles that could be worn for work and leisure. New spring colours also performed well.

Department stores

Department store sales also slowed continuing the downward trend seen in January after an initial boost from sales and pre-VAT increase buying. Promotions, special events and the introduction of new ranges helped clothing and footwear although other categories, such as homewares, continued to struggle.

Internet and mail order

Non-food non-store sales growth further slowed in February, having also fallen back in January, after two strong months. Sales were up by 10.4% on a year ago but this compares to 18% in November and December. Sales slowed as the support seen in January from clearance bargains, pre-VAT buying and pen-up demand after the snow, faded. Extended clearance sales and further promotions helped some, though often at the expense of margins.

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