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Unsettled atmosphere still hangs over retail

Volatility between the performance of individual retailers has been the key trend I’ve been seeing in retail for much of this year – and nowhere is this more prevalent than in the clothing and footwear sectors.

This trend is reflected in the mixed performance of the clothing and footwear sectors in July’s British Retail Consortium/KPMG Retail Sales Monitor (RSM).

The figures published this week show clothing fell to just below its July 2008 level, while footwear maintained its strong performance of the previous month, with year-on-year gains across women’s, men’s and kids’ ranges.

Volatile is also how you might choose to describe our summer this year. Back in June, the sunny weather brought a welcome boost for clothing retailers, and the figures showed good gains compared with the weak performance of the same month in the previous (wet) year.
Footwear also had a good month – especially sandals and kids’ ranges, which were boosted by the heatwave as well as by clearance Sales and seasonal promotions.

But in July, adult clothing sales slowed, falling back to just below their level of July 2008. Many consumers were reluctant to spend more on summer clothing, meaning deeper discounting was the order of the day.

However, it wasn’t all bad news. Kidswear still performed well, while the inclement weather in the second half of July kick-started autumn clothing sales.

In the footwear sector there was a much stronger performance, maintaining the year-on-year gains of June. Casual ranges sold well, while the seasonal back-to-school ranges helped sales of children’s shoes.

So uncertain times for the foreseeable future. Sadly, this doesn’t look set to change any time soon.

  • Helen Dickinson is head of retail at financial services firm KPMG

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