Brands and suppliers were breathing a sigh of relief at the return of wet and windy weather this week, after a warm spell across many parts of the UK at the end of September hit sales of autumn stock.
Many retailers have reduced orders of big-ticket items such as coats in an attempt to avoid a backlog, they said.
One high street womenswear supplier said: “It’s very slow at the moment. Retailers are nervous and they aren’t increasing their budgets; everyone is holding back. Some retailers are placing tiny quantities, hoping to buy into product in season. It’s been a really difficult start to the season.”
Carl Barratt, sales manager for outerwear label Alpha Industries, said sales of lightweight jackets had been the strongest for years but there had been a knock-on effect on heavier coats.
“The suppliers are delivering in August, we pay in August, but most [retailers] now don’t want coats delivered until October, and by the time most pay it’s January.
“I’m going to Germany [where it has a warehouse] in two weeks’ time to look at the stock situation because we can’t hold stock for that long. These are big-ticket items and I get that some see it as a gamble, but some retailers are placing tiny orders to avoid the risk.”
One logistics source said: “I don’t think I have had so many coats in storage at any one time. Now retailers are getting nervous as they are paying for extra storage and markdowns are starting.”
House of Fraser, Debenhams, Marks & Spencer and New Look are among those running mid-season Sales of up to 60%.
Another source said: “A few brands are looking at their retention of title clauses in their standard terms and conditions of sale as they are worried sales are not as they should be. They are worried that stock is not shifting because we haven’t had that cold snap yet.”
Temperatures hit above-average highs of 24 degrees across the UK between September 25 and October 4, according to the Met Office.
Although high street sales rose on average by 2.8% year on year in September, they tumbled 7.6% in the week to October 4, the biggest drop for 18 months, according to the BDO High Street Sales Tracker, which excludes online figures. Fashion sales crept up 1.44%.
“The warmer than expected weather made much of the autumn lines fashion retailers are focusing on largely inappropriate,” said BDO.
One menswear brand and retailer said: “September was tough. The weather hasn’t been great, so it’s a bit of a battle out there.”
However, he was confident sales would pick up in the final quarter: “If we lose a bit in the first half, we always catch up in the second half so I’m not worried.”
Kevin Stone of Stone Agencies opened a debut UK store for heritage menswear brand Baracuta on Newburgh Street, London, on August 14. He said trading has been “better than expected” over the past two months.
“You want rain one day to shift outerwear and then sun the next, because people don’t want to shop in the rain, so there’s no perfect scenario. It’s just about having a good mix of products to deal with every eventuality.
“We’ve had crap Saturdays and amazing Mondays, but it’s down to us to drive traffic to the store through things like social media. You have to be hopeful for the months ahead, and we are.”