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Rain a bigger worry for retailers than recession

Stores say consumers are now immune to gloomy economic news but weather is a washout for spring sales.

Fresh product and tight merchandising will be key to maintaining consumer confidence and spend through the UK’s double-dip recession, industry figures have said.

Retailers dismissed concern that the UK economy shrinking by 0.2% in the first quarter of this year would further dent consumer confidence, saying they were more concerned with the difficult trading conditions brought on by the recent wet weather.

David Pidgeon, managing director of value womenswear chain Select, said: “Is consumer confidence going to be dented as a result of news of a double-dip recession? I don’t know. I don’t think it will make much difference. All I know is that current trade has been harder than we’ve experienced for some time. Like-for-likes earlier in the year were good but in the last three weeks it has switched off. It’s more to do with the weather than anything else.”

Andy Rogers, brand director at Reiss, added: “Things like the weather, transport problems and bank holidays are all reasons that people don’t spend money and are much more likely to stop people shopping than being told we have re-entered recession.”

However, Anthony Thompson, chief executive of lifestyle retailer Fat Face, said news of a double-dip recession would prolong already flat consumer sentiment. As a result of the recent bad weather, Thompson expects more discounting and more companies to fail. Fat Face, though, will not discount.

Thompson said: “There is a lot riding on having a decent summer and a decent cold winter. If we don’t get seasonal weather patterns I’m certain that more companies will go into administration. Margin for error in the retail sector is the smallest I’ve ever seen it. They cannot afford to make the wrong decision.”

A tight rein over merchandising and a focus on new product will be key to steering businesses through this tough time, industry insiders said this week.

Pidgeon said that if tough trading continued, Select would be forced to look at cancelling orders but would not consider widespread discounting.

He said: “We’ve not yet cancelled orders but we will be looking at it as we start to see how the summer pans out. It’s more about tightening things right now. There’s some stock that we can play around with through fabric, or moving things around – this is down to us owning our own factories.”

Suzi Spink, chief operating officer at womenswear retailer East, said: “People do have to discount if consumers aren’t spending and they have to shift stock. However, it is about having a balance and maintaining the integrity of the brand.”

Keith Ewing, owner of Scottish lifestyle indie Number Eight in Stirling, Scotland, said consumers were so used to recession news they had “switched off”. He added: “You’ll still get customers through the door with new brands, constant remerchandising and new displays.”

Consumer confidence was the top business concern for this year for 267 of the 329 retailers surveyed in the Drapers Market Report last month.

High street saturation: wet weather has dampened footfall and halted the demand for spring 12 product

Readers' comments (7)

  • Its April everyone!!! Remember those famous April showers that have been around for many years. Do nout til May is out!!!!!!! There are too many influencing factors causing concern for the customer and how much they can spend. Its time retailers took a long hard look at themselves such as customer experience including service, product availability and is the range right? Stop blaming the weather.

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  • I agree with the previous poster. If the retailer isn't doing very well, the buck stops with them and they should stop making excuses. The weather has been poor no question, but why is that a negative? It isn't. If you're one of those stores that still thinks that the summer season starts in Jan/Feb like the brainwashed sales reps will tell you, then more fool you!

    As an Indie, we've just recorded a record April, against a backdrop of national doom and gloom. So we are one example that the money is out there. Having an extensive knitwear collection all year round, for example, is essential these day as customers don't believe - or want to hear - the old 'The seasons finished' excuse of not having the correct stock in place. Yes your stock levels will be higher, but if that is a problem, should you really be in the business in the first place?

    Give the customer what they want, whenever they want. And get on with it.

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  • Really? i say well done to the two indies above, but they must be the only ones i know in the country doing well right now! Unless they are selling wellies i have no idea...and ps the summer season does start end jan. Da

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  • You two retailers are very much a minority out there, look around ,open your eyes, it's as tough as it's ever been,terrible weather, zero confidence, high unemployment, the high street
    Has one round of discounting after another, web retail is constant guerilla warfare with voucher codes and under the counter discounting, check out last weeks indicator in Drapers
    Footfall down 21%, I for one don't remember a worse figure,

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  • These two retailers are needles in a haystack. I have customers of ours that carry between 250-350k of stock constantly. They are keeping up with last years figures but finding they have to develop online platform and work very hard to keeps sales up. They are not confident when see the environment around them with rising unemployment coupled with appalling weather. Not a good state of affairs!!!

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  • The main issue is that unlike the pre-down turn where customers would buy anything unless the was a good reason not to.
    Nowadays anything will put customers off spending with weather or competitors discounting heavily are the two biggest reasons for customers not to buy.

    Unfortunatly the weather will always be against the indi retailer as the coldest six months of the year are Nov, Dec, Jan, Feb, Mar, April. Four of those months our shops will be full of summer clothing ranges.

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  • The trade has to change - The summer season should be Apr/Sept, with Winter being Oct/Mar. You need to have the right products at the right time and this industry is so out of kilter with the what consumers want and more importantly, when they want them, it's lamentable. There's no point getting product in early when they is no demand for it - you can't afford to be sitting on stock that hasn't the potential to shift for a few months just because a brand says you must take it. Times are tough and brands generally make things a lot tougher than it needs to be.

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