Improved weather has given retailers their first sign of green shoots for spring trading, but some have warned of continuing volatility due to a late Easter.
But retailers said the good weather last weekend had inspired customers to buy bright colours and strong prints.
Nick Keyte, head of buying for menswear at John Lewis, said rising consumer confidence was evident in the bold styles bought: “It’s still early days in terms of weather but there is a more confident mood in the market and that comes through in what customers are buying. The uptake in bold colours such as coral and pinks and retro prints reflects this.”
Geoff Quinn, chief executive of shirt retailer TM Lewin, agreed. “The good weather last weekend was that breath of fresh air we needed to clear away the doom and gloom. Trading has picked up – a month ago when it was raining it was hard to shift bright colours so the sunshine has made all the difference,” he said.
Valerie O’Neill, menswear buying director of Dublin department store Arnotts, said it had a “fantastic start” to spring, with Lyle & Scott and Nigel Hall being particularly well-received.
Several retail bosses said last month’s flooding, the change in half-term dates and Easter falling late this year were combining to create a volatile spring.
Chief executive of lifestyle retailer Jigsaw, Peter Ruis, said: “A late Easter this year means customers might hold off from spending. The market is relatively subdued due to elements such as the weather in February. At the moment it’s a combination of a difficult economy, difficult like-for-likes and the flooding. If people were flooded for weeks they’re not really thinking about going shopping.”
Harvey Nichols outgoing chief executive Joseph Wan echoed this. “In the last two to three weeks trade has been quite volatile but I don’t understand why. One day sales are up and then they are down the next. I’m not sure if it’s to do with the pattern of school holidays compared with last year.”
Philip Day, owner of Edinburgh Woollen Mill Group, which as well as the eponymous chain also owns Jane Norman and Peacocks, added: “At the start of the year there was talk about people becoming more confident – that’s clearly not coming through in volumes.
“We have seen a small decline in footfall in areas of extensive flooding, however we’re lucky as we have stores all across the country so we’ve been able to make up for the fall in other areas. If the weather improves I’m confident customers will come out shopping.”