Last throw of the dice for retailers looking to drive trade as forecasts predict snowy weather will return.
Indie retailers have joined high street chains in an early promotional battle to drive Christmas trade in the face of a second bout of extreme wintry conditions this week.
A third of contemporary womenswear indies polled by Drapers in its Indicator survey this week said they had taken the unprecedented decision to go on Sale before Christmas, with many reacting to a flurry of promotional activity already launched by department stores and high street chains.
Diana Lawlan, partner at contemporary womenswear indie Folie in Whitley Bay, North Tyneside, said: “I’ve got reductions on now because you go into town and everyone has Sales on. It’s now or never. The weather is so iffy. You’ve got to get the money in while you can.”
Gemma Wiseman, co-owner of contemporary womenswear indie Foundation in Cheltenham, said: “As soon as there is promotional activity in the department stores and online then you’re driven to compete.”
The cold weather was expected to return to the whole of the UK as Drapers went to press, with the northern half of the country likely to remain in a deep freeze for most of the countdown to Christmas Day.
However, some indies were optimistic that the winter weather would keep shoppers out of their cars and drive them back onto local high streets to buy last-minute gifts.
Anna Lisle, manager of contemporary womenswear indie Terracotta in Rugby, said she had promoted selected brands, knocking off as much as 40% to get trade moving. She said: “With the snow, people don’t want to go into town, and want to shop locally.”
Regional variations to shopping patterns have been even more defined, with the brunt of the bad weather hitting the north of England and Scotland.
Fiona Moriarty, director of the Scottish Retail Consortium, said: “We’ve seen the high street has been extremely busy since the thaw. In this window of opportunity retailers are reporting extremely brisk trade. Town centres are more accessible than out of town.”
However, high street retailers including Marks & Spencer, River Island, Tesco and Sainsbury’s have stopped taking online orders for deliveries to Scotland, while parcel carrier hubs in the region are said to be backlogged with parcels waiting to be delivered.
Angela Spindler, chief executive of discount chain The Original Factory Shop, said: “For people like us in the value sector - with a very broad range and being local - the convenience element is working really well with this unpredictable weather.”
One value retail chief with stores in secondary locations agreed: “The snowy weather has helped us as our customers shop local. How it will go this weekend though depends on the weather. My view is that now there is more discounting than in 2008.”
High street retailers have joined indies in kicking off a raft of heavy pre-Christmas promotions and Sales in a bid to resuscitate lost business, with retailers including French Connection, H&M, Hobbs and Warehouse all on Sale this week, some with up to 50% off selected lines.
One high street womenswear chief executive said: “It has been the most promotional lead-up to Christmas ever.
“We were rocking up until the snow. The first week of the snow we were crucified. People with a geographical skew to the south were OK but north-focused people were screwed. It was devastating that week and knocked on into the next.
“We can never make up not selling that volume of stock in the run-up to Christmas.”
Partywear in particular has borne the brunt of the impact of the snowy weather, with one high street womenswear chief saying those sales were now lost forever
While the fashion industry remains braced for sales to be frozen out in the run-up to Christmas, the so-called ‘January Sales’ could provide some respite for clothing and footwear businesses.
Nearly half of all shoppers who intend to buy in the Sales are set to spend on clothing and footwear, according to an ICM poll conducted by Drapers’ sister title Retail Week.
Poll shows shoppers are still keen on a bargain
45% of those surveyed said shopping for fashion would be their main priority, way ahead of the second-placed category, electricals, at 23%.
Approximately six in 10 of those aged between 18 and 35 said they would be “likely” to purchase clothing and footwear in the Sales, significantly higher than any other age groups.