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Sale frenzy puts retailers on edge

Caroline Nodder

I remember at 3am one morning in my younger years, I was leaving a club in Carlisle when I was confronted by a long line of people with thermos flasks and woolly hats, camping out on the high street outside Next waiting for the January Sale to begin.

I remember at 3am one morning in my younger years, I was leaving a club in Carlisle when I was confronted by a long line of people with thermos flasks and woolly hats, camping out on the high street outside Next waiting for the January Sale to begin.

This was in the days when the Sales happened but twice a year. Skip forward to 2011 and in this issue of Drapers we unveil new figures from retail research agency Retailmap that show buyers are now using an almost constant programme of Sales to stimulate business in this tough climate.

With less disposable income, consumers have got used to being offered a good deal both online and in-store, to the point where they now expect it. And the growth in etailing has encouraged price comparisons too.

All this means buyers now have to factor in promotions when they are placing orders, and must also plan for various eventualities, such as the recent warm weather, which can lead to slow trade and the need to stimulate buying with more discounts.

I was walking around a selection of stores this week and barely saw a single one that didn’t have some form of promotion. Whether overt or covert, constant promotion is now widespread.

It also impacts on other parts of the market. Indies don’t want to be caught out stocking the same brand or range as a multiple when it goes on Sale, so the pressure is on them to choose different ranges or new brands not stocked elsewhere.

To succeed in this competitive market in the run-up to Christmas requires perfect stock control, and an almost instant reaction to consumer behaviour and other factors such as the weather. Come January we may well see some casualties among those who can’t perfect this balancing act.    

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