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Are retailers right to blame bad sales on weather?

You can usually hear the collective groan from journalists and analysts in the retail sector for miles on results days when a company blames their poor trading on the weather.

It has, until recently, been viewed a bit like suggesting the dog ate your homework when the real issue is your own incompetence.

I have even heard fellow retailers deriding other fashion businesses for playing the weather card, implying that it is a catch-all excuse used by those who lack the strong strategy and business model to play successfully in the current market.

But while it is true that the weather seems an easy excuse when times are tough, there is also no way that retailers could have predicted the extremes of weather that we have seen in the UK over the last three years. As I write it is snowing…snowing…in April.

Sure, buyers can buy more transeasonal product, and merchandisers can be cleverer with their promotional strategy and online push to move stock, but ultimately who in their right mind would have ordered up duffle coats and knee-high boots to their shelves in April?

Its been the coldest March on record, hot on the heels of two of the wettest ‘summers’ on record while 2011 saw the warmest autumn in many many years. Even with the best will in the world that has got to have affected trading for most fashion retailers.

Interestingly those that have done well over that time have done so as a result of the balance of categories in their business (homeware and beauty, for example, are almost weatherproof).

I’d almost find it odd if a company didn’t reference the weather in their results these days – unless of course the dog ate their P&L.

Readers' comments (4)

  • The issues would be resolved if christmas was moved from 25th december to 25th february.
    alternatively the accountants who control buyers ,let the buyers have more budget on the transitional product line.
    Without the change from the stores/brands ,its a no win situation ...........
    since 1991 and the start of last recession its seems no one is bothered with the global weather pattern changes....

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  • I think it depends largely on how much you blame it.

    Dip in LFL sales - sure thing.

    Massive Q4 losses - pathetic.

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  • If you've got naive buyers who can't see the wood for the trees when it comes to the British weather, then it is a problem. Anyone who still thinks you can base a business around the notion that summer starts in January and ends in July should get out of the trade and run a seal sanctuary in Grimsby because they don't know what they're doing.

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  • Thierry BAYLE

    Yes the weather has an effect but it cannot be responsible 100%.

    So now, what are the other reasons for poor trading?

    Do you have a strategy?
    What are the changes that you implement regularly to improve your 2 key assets: stock and people?
    There is a scence behind the buying act ( Open to Buy plan ) however only the big boyes are using it. Yet it is available to the independent
    Are you training your staff to reach higher standards? If you raise the standards, you will raise the performnace.
    Do you look at retail measurements and which ones? More critically, what actions are you taking after reading this data?

    In every business there are things you control and things you do not control.
    Weather is one you cannot control. Focusing your growth strategy on the weather is .... not so cool.....
    What about things we control like buying, merchandising, staff training ...

    I agree the weather has been against us for many seasons so this is why the strategy has to be revised.
    This is why we never believed that sales forcasting and planning is about using data of last season or last year.
    Look at what has been happening over the past 2/3 months and take action monthly at the worst ( as an independent ).
    Some independent retailers take action once or twice a season and that is not good enough in the current economy and with the current weather.


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