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High street forecasts damp Easter

The crucial Easter trading weekend is in danger of turning into a washout, according to high street retailers that have been disappointed with the slow start to March.

Retailers contacted by Drapers said that persistent cold weather, which looks set to continue through the extended Easter Bank Holiday weekend, was turning shoppers off spring 10 merchandise.

Several chains, including Marks & Spencer, Topshop and Gap, had launched mid-season Sales in a bid to stimulate footfall as Drapers went to press.

However, discounting has so far failed to bring shoppers out onto the high street.

According to Experian FootFall, shopper numbers for the week to March 22 were down 2.4% compared with the same week last year.

One high street chief executive said: “There is an understanding that trade is what it is and that’s poor at the moment. Even going on Sale isn’t boosting business for most. Easter could bring more of the same.”

Zara UK and Ireland general manager Dilip Patel said: “The weather’s up and down. I am confident about Easter, but not as confident as in previous years. It’s a mixed bag really. From a stock perspective we’re very prepared for any eventuality.”

Acccording to the Met Office, weather conditions will remain unsettled through the Easter period, with showers and rain across the country. Temperatures are expected to be colder than average in the north of the country but closer to average in the south. However, the first week of April could bring warmer weather to southern counties.

Mike Shearwood, chief executive of Aurora Fashions, which includes the Karen Millen and Oasis chains, said: “The young fashion customer is being very cautious about where she spends her money at the moment. She’s absolutely looking for value and she know which pieces are going into markdown. It’s a matter of buy it now or wait. But if we get the weather, Easter could be good.”

Other retailers said that Easter was less important and that the fundamental issue with trading was about shoppers being used to bargains.

Touker Suleyman, owner of shirt chain Hawes & Curtis, said: “I think the days of great peaks and troughs [at Easter] are gone. People are already on Sale. The real issue is that the average customer doesn’t want to pay full price.”

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