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Stores face discount dilemma to resurrect Easter trading

Exclusive poll: majority of shoppers do not plan to spend on spring 11 fashion over bank holiday breaks.

A shocking 69% of consumers are not intending to do any clothes shopping over the crucial Easter and royal wedding bank holiday weekends but 42% said they could be persuaded to splash out on spring 11 fashion the next month if retailers step up discounting.

In an exclusive consumer sentiment survey for Drapers, OnePoll asked a UK population representative sample of more than 2,000 shoppers how they felt about spending on fashion this season, after retailers reported some of the worst trading on record in March.

The answers were broadly the same regardless of income, with only minor fluctuations between key shopper groups indicating that consumer confidence has plummeted and fashion has slipped down the agenda for nervy and cash-poor consumers.

Some 66.6% of respondents said the next six months would not bring any improvement for the UK economy and a frightening 47.4% of shoppers said they were now spending less on non-grocery items, including clothes, than they did during autumn 10. 52.6% said they were spending less on non-grocery products than they did a year ago.

Only 30%, or 629 people, claimed to have bought new clothes in the past four weeks (the survey closed on April 5). Half of those said their fashion purchasing had been driven by “getting a bargain at a discount or in a Sale”, while 39% said their purchase was a needs-must wardrobe replacement purchase or for a specific occasion.

Of those that had not bought anything new in the last month, 43.2% said it was because they were “reluctant to spend money on clothes at the moment”. A further 27.1% said they “didn’t need any new clothes”. Some 15.2% said they were “waiting for the Sales”.

On the bright side, few people blamed spring 11 trends for their lack of purchasing, with just 6.9% saying their reason for not buying was that they “didn’t like the styles”. However, 32% of the 622 people, who said they had no intention of buying clothes in the next four weeks, said it was because they did not need any new clothes, perhaps suggesting the trends retailers have backed are not compelling enough this season.

According to the survey, the weather had surprisingly little effect on shopper purchasing decisions. Only 9.5% said “it was too cold” to buy spring clothes. 16.1% of shoppers said whether they bought any spring clothes over the next four weeks would depend on the weather. However, according to the Met Office, it is unlikely to warm up significantly in time for the Easter break (see box, right).

Click on the link on the right to download the full report

The gender divide

Women were slightly more pessimistic than men about the outlook for the economy but they continue to buy more spring fashion than men - 36.6% of the 1,096 women surveyed had spent some money on clothes in the past four weeks. 32% said they had bought because they “liked the styles” but 48.7% of them said a discount had persuaded them to purchase. Some 13.7% said they would “definitely” buy some more clothes over the next four weeks but 47% said they would only part with cash if they could get money off. 63.5% said they did not intend to shop for clothes over the Easter and royal wedding holidays.

By contrast, just 23.3% of men said they had bought new spring clothes in the past four weeks. 53.3% said their purchase was driven by discounts, while 33.9% said they had bought something because they needed it. The biggest difference between the genders came on future purchasing, where 37% of the men said they had no intention of buying any spring clothes in the next four weeks, in contrast with just 23.9% of women. 37.8% of men said they may be persuaded to spend with discounts. 75.4% of men said they did not intend to shop for clothes over the Easter and royal wedding bank holidays.

Met Office UK outlook April 19 to May 3

The period over the Easter and royal wedding bank holidays looks like it will continue to have a general north-south split at first, with much of Scotland and Northern Ireland seeing mainly unsettled weather and occasionally below-average temperatures for mid-spring. England and Wales should generally be more settled with nearer-normal temperatures, possibly creeping a little above normal at times in central and southern England, but some spells of rain or showers are still likely on occasions. Rainfall should be about average countrywide, but despite the spells of rain, much of the country should see average or a little above average amounts of sunshine.

UK highs and lows Fashion spend attitude by region

Scotland 20.3%
“I cannot afford to buy many clothes, other things have to take priority”

East Anglia 22.5%
“Fashion is the bottom of my priorities”

Northwest 14%
“I will only buy for a special occasion”

Northern Ireland 25%
“I will only buy if I need to replace something specific”

London 4.6%
“It is a high priority for me, I love fashion”

Spring fashion through the ages

At the younger end of the spectrum the picture was slightly more optimistic, with 18.5% (65 respondents) of 18 to 24-year-olds saying they would “definitely” buy some spring clothes in the next four weeks. This fell to just 7.8% among the over-55s. However, all of the age groups broadly agreed they might spend on clothes in the next four weeks if they could get discounts. The younger demographics are also more likely to be found on the high street during Easter, with 16.2% of 18 to 24-year-olds, or 57 respondents, saying they did intend to shop for clothes during the holiday. 14.2% of 25 to 34-year-olds also intend to go shopping over the two bank holiday breaks. The proportion fell markedly for the over-35s, with 8.49% of 35 to 44-year-olds intending to go shopping for clothes over the period and just 6.1% and 3.6% of the 45 to 54 age group and over-55s respectively intending to spend some of their leisure time shopping for spring fashion. Interestingly, 35 to 54-year-olds were the most pessimistic about the economic outlook. 72.9% of 35 to 44-year-olds said the economy would not improve over the next six months and 73.8% of 45 to 54-year-olds agreed. By contrast, just 54% of 18 to 24-year-olds thought the same.

A question of priorities

Where does buying clothes rank in terms of importance to you at the moment?

● It is a high priority for me,
I love clothes and fashion
● I will buy sometimes, if I like what is in fashion and it suits me
● I will only buy if I need something for a specific occasion
● I will only buy if I need to replace something in my wardrobe
● It is at the bottom of my list of priorities
● I can’t afford to buy many clothes. Other things have to take priority


69.1% - of shoppers don’t intend to do any clothes shopping over the Easter or royal wedding bank holiday period
42.7% - of shoppers said they “may” make a fashion purchase in the next four weeks if there are special offers/discounts
39.8% - of shoppers said more than one quarter of their fashion purchases were now driven by discounts


View from the boardroom

Don McCarthy, chairman, House of Fraser
“Are we doing as much as we’d like to be? No. It’s harder and tougher than it has been for years. The word ‘tough’ implies it will get better. The way we are trading now is the way it will be for 18 months. Everybody is worried about their jobs, their pay packet. Inflation is eating into their wallets.”

Richard Pepper, owner, Peppers
“Consumers are definitely more cautious. The money is there but there is a degree of uncertainty. It definitely helped when it was warm and mild [a couple of weeks ago]. As this is a tourist area, the Easter period is key. We need some nice weather.”

Colin Temple, chief executive, Schuh
“Our turnover isn’t too bad, it’s a little bit regionalised. Consumers fall into two camps: those on a reasonable income who aren’t really feeling the effects of the budget and then those who have noticed money is a lot tighter. I also think it’s different for different age groups.”

Sally Bailey, chief executive, White Stuff
“We’ve had seven years of like-for-like growth and when we don’t get like-for-like growth we get depressed about it. They [extra taxes] have really hit the middle classes and many of our consumers are high earners. It’s the worst March ever.”


Click on the link on the right to download the full report

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Martin Ailion

    Every time you open a newspaper all you see is doom and gloom. What incentive is that for any consumer to spend on any product? I don't believe that people don't want to spend, I genuinely think they are scared to spend.

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