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Easter in lockdown: What's in store for retailers?

Easter holiday is the second most important trading period in the retail calendar. What will be the long-term impact on fashion businesses of missing out on this four-day bank holiday bounce? 

With the weather starting to warm up and more daylight hours to enjoy, the sunshine usually tempts consumers out on to the high street over the Easter bank holiday weekend. Or, if British tradition holds true, a sudden April shower might call for an online shopping session instead.

But, with the closure of all non-essential stores and people being told by the government to stay indoors as part of the lockdown to mitigate the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus, the shape of retail over Easter 2020 is set to be very different from previous years. 

The four-day bank holiday weekend on 10-13 April is predicted be “unrecognisable” in what is usually the most important trading period for retailers outside of Christmas, says Diane Wehrle, insights director at retail intelligence provider Springboard.

Topshop's Easter discounting online

Topshop’s Easter discounting online

Data from Springboard highlighted that in 2019, the three trading days over the Easter weekend – Good Friday, Easter Saturday and Easter Monday – accounted for 38.5% of all footfall generated over the nine key trading days in the year. The others are new year’s day, early May bank holiday, late May bank holiday, August bank holiday, Black Friday and Boxing Day.

“Easter is a key trading period on the retail calendar for bricks-and-mortar destinations, and so its impact on the overall performance of the year cannot be overestimated,” Wehrle tells Drapers.

“It equates to around one-third of key footfall for the year and is second [only] to Black Friday. It is such a shame that Easter has fallen within the lockdown, as it will be disastrous for fashion sales. And if Easter sales and footfall are down, then full-year results are impacted heavily too. The result doesn’t just affect the month – it will spin-off the entire year.”

Retail analyst Mark Pilkington agrees that this Easter will be a “wash-out” for the “non-essential” retail industry: “Easter is normally the second busiest time of year for retailers outside of Christmas. However, with the impact of the coronavirus lockdown, spending intentions are down this year by 11%, a survey by Media Reach has shown.

Quiet build-up

Several industry sources say a quiet build-up to Easter is a sign for what is to come over the weekend. 

“Easter trading for us tends usually to be about people getting ready to go away and in normal conditions, sales tend to rise before the weekend and tail off over the Easter weekend itself, as people concentrate on their leisure time. This is not likely to happen this year for obvious reasons and people are concentrating on their home and being comfortable there instead,” head of retail at one high street multiple says.

“As a result, I believe that sales will not necessarily pick-up just because it is Easter this year, as so many people are already furloughed or working at home. Therefore, the bank holiday is not likely to not have its usual effect this year.”

The chief executive of one high street womenswear retailer agrees: “In womenswear, pre-Easter is usually bigger than Easter weekend because people are shopping for events, family get togethers, weddings, holidays etc. Online sales in the past week have been similar to last year – no increase you might expect from customers swapping from stores to online –, and profits are down because of the continual discounting.”

Retailers including AllSaints, Clarks, Asos and Topshop have been offering hefty online promotions of up to 70% off in the run-up to Easter to try to entice customers. Industry sources believe this will worsen the situation.

The womenswear chief executive adds: “Discounting will in no way make up for lost sales and profit. In my experience Easter is good for full-price sales because of the mixture of the holiday and an improvement in weather. So, I expect profits will be hugely down on the year.”

Price war

Rosie Middleton, marketing manager at online womenswear brand Dancing Leopard, says it has been forced to discount for the first time ever. 

“We tend to operate a non-discount strategy. However, retailers who market bank holiday Sales may benefit from an increase in sales of two to three times that of a typical weekend.

“The optimal influencing purchase factors over the Easter weekend are increased promotions and excess time to browse, supported by it being the first change of season step-up of the new year – meaning an inclination to purchase for the upcoming summer months ahead.”

She adds: “This Easter, we have to recognise at this time customers are more considered with their purchases, and may not have the security and disposable income as they would normally.”

Like other retailers and brands, Dancing Leopard expects a continued marginal rise in online sales: “We have seen a steady shift in sales since the initial shock of coronavirus hit. With increased time to browse online and many retailers/etailers offering substantial discounts, I would be inclined to suggest that sales will pick up marginally.”

The chief executive of one handbag and accessories retailer agrees: “Easter is usually strong for us. Online is very strong at present for obvious reasons. This year will probably be strong based on Covid-19 impact driving the online and digital channels.”

AllSaints Easter discounting

AllSaints Easter discounting

The latest UK data from internet advertising company Criteo’s Shopper Network found the greatest increase in online clothing sales in March was for shorts, for which like-for-like sales have surged 267%  since January. This was closely followed by outfits sets (up 236%), sleepwear and loungewear (up 230%) and baby clothing (207%).

Marc Ó Fathaigh, UK country manager at Criteo, says: “Social-distancing efforts have already radically altered people’s daily routines, with over half of consumers in the UK planning to shop more online as a result of Covid-19. However, as shoppers adjust to the new normal, we are seeing a return to discretionary spend, including fashion.”

Another high street chief executive says: “Sales have gone up significantly since the sun came out last week. This is all online, though, and in no way makes up for the loss of sales from the shops being closed.

“I think the concern will be post-Easter. I don’t think Easter is actually ‘a thing’ this year – other than the buying of Easter eggs.”

With Easter weekend erased from the retail calendar, Black Friday will be more important than ever before. When the UK comes out of lockdown, creating a thorough and well-thought-out strategy for this key date will need to be a top priority for all retailers.  

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