Warm weather sparks optimism ahead of crucial trading weekend, but longer-term pessimism remains.
Retailers expect the spring sunshine to bring some respite at Easter but have warned that predictions beyond this bank holiday weekend remain cloudy.
In a much-needed fillip for beleaguered retailers, fashion sales rose 4.4% in the week to April 17, with clothing up 4.2% and footwear ahead 5.3% according to data from accountancy firm BDO’s High Street Sales Tracker.
However, a true picture of like-forlike sales were skewed by Easter falling later this year. Footfall was flat year on year, figures from Experian showed, but that was tracking ahead of the average drop of 2% for the past two months.
Angela Spindler, chief executive of discount retailer The Original Factory Shop, said: “There has been a real step up over the weekend and in the last week. If the weather continues, it will be a massive week and a springboard into a good spring season. We hope to see Easter as a bit of a turning point.”
Mike Shearwood, chief executive of Aurora Fashions, which comprises Oasis, Warehouse and Coast, said: “We’ve been happy with our trade last week and are feeling positive about Easter trading. Occasionwear and summer dresses are doing well.”
Suzi Spink, chief operating officer at womenswear chain East, said: “A lot of people are staying in the UK over the Easter break so we are hoping they will shop over the bank holiday weekend.”
However, some retailers warned that the fall of Easter three weeks later than last year and jittery consumer confidence could lead to continued volatile trading numbers. Those with stores in city centre locations could also suffer if shoppers head out of urban areas.
One department store boss said: “We are up on last year in the first quarter. However, the timing of things like Easter makes it volatile.
One week we can be up 20% and the next we are 20% down.” Ken Bartle, chief executive of footwear retailer Jones Bootmaker, said: “We do tend to suffer on bank holidays because we have some of our best shops in the City of London, and those don’t open on bank holidays.”
Lifestyle retailer Oliver Bonas founder and managing director Oliver Tress said: “Being Londonbased we think the bank holidays will be pretty poor. However, we are a long way up on last year so we should still have a good month. When you factor in bank holidays we would expect to be 10% to 20% down on a normal week as our City-based locations shut completely and in our more residential-based locations people tend to go away.”
Retailers shrug off royal wedding security risks
London retailers are unperturbed by the potential security risks posed by the royal wedding next week and said the event could provide a strong sales opportunity.
Police have scoured central London in the run-up to the big day on April 29, looking for explosives and scrutinising safety measures.
One department store boss said: “We are positive that for the royal wedding weekend there will be a bit of traction [in sales]. I think the police will be well prepared [should there be any problems].”
Katie Canvin, owner of premium indie Austique in Chelsea, west London, said: “I hope it’ll be a great party atmosphere and everyone will be in the mood to shop.”
Meanwhile, London mayor Boris Johnson this week committed to investigating ways to prevent political protests and demonstration marches from damaging trade for retailers in the West End. Johnson confirmed a meeting on May 5, chaired by deputy mayor for policing Kit Malthouse and including representatives from multiple agencies as well as retailers, to explore ways of preventing the kinds of scenes seen in March when a splinter group of activists at a TUC protest march
caused damage to retailers including Fortnum & Mason and Topshop.
Johnson said: “We are having a conversation with the police and the New West End Company to make sure there is no repeat of the events.”