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Deputy Diary: Focusing on hot product can help retailers beat the chill

I’m bored of my coat. I’m bored of my boots, bored of my jumpers. And I’m fed up with wearing tights.

But it’s OK because it’s Easter, it’s spring, and so it’s time to update my wardrobe.

Oh, hang on a minute - it’s snowing outside.

We all know retailers love to blame the weather for poor sales, but my word, they have reason to this season. And with chilly temperatures forecast for the Easter bank holiday, there’s no respite in sight.

So what to do? For many retailers the answer is to discount.

Our lead news story this week shows that just over a quarter of retail space in March was devoted to discounted products, with many retailers going on Sale ahead of this weekend’s bank holiday. For some retailers such as Debenhams, which plans its discounting strategy 12 months in advance to protect margins, the tactic could pay off, but it’s a worry for others.

One retailer I spoke to this week said trading since February has been abysmal. He also said that, if he’d put his unsold autumn stock back on the shop floor, it would probably sell at full price, but to protect the brand image he couldn’t risk it. I see his point, but it shows that something needs to be done; no one should have to avoid selling at full price - that’s insane.

When you view our Brand Market Report, you’ll see that the traditional two-season fashion cycle is losing its relevance in today’s market. This all points to the importance of product.

One brand that isn’t complaining is Ted Baker, which last week saw its full-year profits soar 20%. The business commented on the success of its international expansion strategy, but there would be no strategy if it weren’t for Ted’s unrivalled collections. You know when you pick up a Ted Baker coat that it’s a Ted Baker coat - often, the lining gives it away, or a small, quirky detail, like a cool button or bold use of colours and prints.

At the other end of the spectrum, Primark also continues to perform well. During Drapers’ Next Generation Academy last week, chief executive Paul Marchant said the retailer spends more time focusing on product than any other business he has worked in. Marchant alone spends 80 full days a year on product reviews, more time than when he was head of buying at Debenhams 15 years ago. I can’t imagine many chief executives doing that.

And so when our junior fashion writer Emily Norval walked into our weekly editorial meeting in a pair of sleek dungarees, I realised that to get over my coat and jumper boredom, I didn’t need a summer dress or sandals, or even a new coat. I needed a pair of dungarees - something I don’t currently own, which is on trend and I can wear when it’s cold. Sorted.

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