Retailers across the UK have launched discounts on new-season products, as warm September temperatures dampen demand for coats and knitwear.
Next, New Look, Asos, Debenhams and H&M are among those offering substantial discounts this week – up to 50% off autumn stock – as the high street continues to wrestle with unusual weather patterns and weak consumer confidence.
“It’s highly unusual that Next has gone on Sale because it’s usually one of the strictest. It doesn’t really make sense to do sales at the end of September,” one high street supplier said.
“I think the problem is that the stock flow hasn’t been good enough throughout the high street, either transitional or late summer. The timing of bringing new stock in has caught people short. We’ve had a long summer.”
Debbie Hewitt, chairman of White Stuff, noted greater levels of discounting on the high street: “There’s more promotional activity in the market. We’re seeing more offers like three for two [deals].
“It’s been so extreme for this time of year. Typically, it’s more predictable: you have back to school, back from holidays – usually it’s very steady but this year it’s significantly more volatile. There are days when it can be double-digit positive and double-digit negative. It’s very varied.”
The new season follows an August that showed an almost 3% decline in sales year on year – the second-to-worst monthly performance since the BDO High Street Sales Tracker started in 2006. It was also the 11th successive month in which growth did not exceed 1%.
“Demand is flat,” observed independent retail analyst Richard Hyman. “This market is not going to get less promotional. The vast majority of the retailers on Sale are not designed to be on Sale like this. They’re on sale because their competitors are.
“We’re living in a world of tremendous uncertainty and that tends to breed panic, and we’re seeing quite a lot of that.”
Hyman predicted the retail market will experience further distress in the run-up to Christmas: “I’ll be astonished if there are not more casualties between now and end of year. I don’t think anyone should be relying on Christmas to bail them out. Against the background of tremendous political uncertainty, why on earth would consumers be confident?”