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'Pressured' retailers discount spring stock

High street and online retailers across the UK have launched discounts on new-season products, as both wet weather and the coronavirus dampen demand for spring stock. 

On the high street this week, New Look is running 25% off tops, and was running 25% off everything over the weekend, Office offers a 40% discount on “must-have” trainers and Whistles has 20% off on new arrivals.

Meanwhile, pureplay etailers are also discounting. Asos is running 30% off on new-season product, and Missguided is offering 25% off almost everything.

The industry has blamed stormy weather and the coronavirus for impacting footfall and forcing retailers to discount new products. 

“High street retailers across the country have again felt pressured to put their new-season stock on Sale,” the chief executive of one high street retailer told Drapers. “The terrible weather across the last couple of weeks hasn’t helped. It’s also the final quarter for many retailers as they look to round off a [terrible] year. For us, shop footfall has been down by 30% year on year in the last couple of weeks. I think mostly poor trade over last two to three weeks is the main reason for current discounting. Retailers are trying to get every last penny.” 

The head of sales at one high street retailer agreed that the weather has caused retailers to discount: “I do believe that weather conditions compared to last year are a factor. Last year we had seen two very mild weeks in a row which I think triggered a willingness in many people to buy spring-like product then. The weather conditions were very conducive to it, and the spring 19 market was buoyant as a result.

“This year there has been very stormy, wet and windy conditions for a few weeks, and I feel many people have yet to make the psychological switch towards spring. I also think that this season, as many brands still had autumn product available on significant markdown values until very recently, with the colder conditions many customers were perhaps choosing to buy autumn product still and not spring product. This may have caused low rates of sale for some spring product ranges and some brands may now be concerned that they are going to have too much stock unless they mark down to encourage sales.” 

He added that coronavirus has also played a part: “Brands that rely on international tourism are also possibly finding it hard because of a slowdown in visitors caused by concerns over coronavirus.”

The managing director of one lifestyle high street retailer agreed: “The storms will have subdued demand considerably. Then coronavirus will have reduced international customers, plus some UK customers may be avoiding shopping malls, and so on. Then underlying consumer demand remains weak.

“So, unfortunately, it will probably be the usual challenge of getting rid of stock that has not sold through, hitting targets, and meeting cashflow requirements.”

However, other industry experts said the coronavirus was not the only factor responsible for the promotional activity. 

“The number of fashion retailers running mid-season Sales has gradually edged up as trading has become increasingly tough,” retail analyst Richard Hyman said. “Right now, everyone will blame everything on the coronavirus. But the reality is chronic oversupply – too many players, too many stores, too many websites. And offerings are rather bland, so retail is not giving consumers enough reason to buy. Coronavirus is an additional factor but, without it, you would still be seeing lots of promotions.”

The managing director of one high street retailer agreed: “I guess we are all getting rid of the tail end of our winter Sale stock and there might be some very low prices for the remnants.”

James Prentice, fashion category manager at Ebay UK said: “By moving away from two buying seasons a year, retailers are always promoting in order to shift stock fast and make way for the next big trend. This becomes particularly evident during seasonal changes.”

Market research agency Mintel found that 60% of clothes shoppers said clothing seems to be on Sale more often than it is full price, in a study that is yet to be released. 

“Retailers have created a very promotional climate, and so consumers hold back because they know products will be on discount,” Tamara Sender, senior fashion analyst at Mintel, explained. “Overall, we’re also seeing that across fashion, people are not really spending very much. It’s a very challenging time for retailers, and they are finding it difficult to predict levels of stock due to consumers holding back a bit.”

She added: “The weather is also to blame, but retailers can be doing more to protect themselves. They need to offer more versatile products if weather is an issue.”


Readers' comments (2)

  • Richard Hyman is the only one to call this right in this article - 'too many players, too many stores, too many websites.' There will always be an excuse with retail to discount stock and this year will be no exception.

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  • Totally agree. I think weather was cited this time last year as a reason for poor trading. It's lazy retailing.

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