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Retailers cheer bank holiday and back-to-school uplift

Retailers have reported an uplift in sales over the bank holiday weekend, as temperatures dropped and families hit the shops as the summer holidays draw to a close, and are cautiously optimistic about the season ahead.  

Data from market research company GfK revealed a significant dip in consumer confidence over the summer, although it did begin to climb again in August. Footfall figures from the British Retail Consortium show fewer shoppers visited the high street, shopping centres and retail parks, compared with the same period in 2017. The high street had hoped for a cool bank holiday to lure customers back to stores.

Fergus Patterson, managing director of Gant UK and Ireland, said August overall has been a much stronger month for the brand: “This was much needed after challenging sales performance during June and July, which felt very weather driven. Bank holiday Monday had particularly strong performance in shopping malls, [such as] Bluewater and both Westfield [sites].

“We are cautiously optimistic for autumn 18, but underlying consumer confidence is still weak and could be easily knocked off track.”

One retail chief executive agreed that the bank holiday performance had been strong, thanks in particular to colder weather. “We’ve seen double-digit growth [over the weekend] and especially strong sales in knitwear.”

Those figures make back to school the UK’s third-largest seasonal shopping event after Black Friday and Christmas.  

One chief executive of a value retailer said sales had picked up over the weekend, and with back-to-school demand, the chain was hoping for a good week. Another footwear retailer said that back-to-school sales had already been strong and the brand had been “pleasantly surprised” by performance in the past few weeks. He added that they would have to see what would happen in the coming months. 

The Met Office expects the warm weather to return to the UK in early September, which may put more pressure on stores that have brought in autumn/winter stock. The British Retail Consortium has estimated that warm weather in September could cost non-food retailers £80m per week.

The chairman of one high street retailer said clearing stock had become a real issue under the current conditions: “I think the general retail climate is still very challenging and discount led. The weather has prompted people to think about buying different things, but with many stressed assets coming on the high street such as House of Fraser, retailers are finding it challenging to clear stock.

“The volatility of the high street is the big issue, and when products are piled onto the market, it distorts the marketplace.”

One womenswear fast fashion brand agreed, but said performance would always really be down to the strength and individuality of the product: “The UK market is tougher than ever, but as long as your product is quite different, it can be OK. Retailers’ budgets are stagnant, but at least they’re not dropping at the moment. It can change very quickly though.”


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