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Whatever the weather, the outlook for 2014 is bright

A Happy New Year from the team at Drapers to all our readers in the fashion community. Here’s to a very good 2014 for us all.

I am writing this column from my hotel on the banks of the Arno River in Florence, the location of menswear fair Pitti Uomo. The new fashion buying season - for autumn 14, would you believe? - is upon us and I am feeling very invigorated, even excited, about the prospects for the next 12 months.

On the wall of a building outside my hotel is a plaque about 15ft above ground level which indicates the high-water mark of the calamitous flood of November 4, 1966. This was not a good Friday for Florence as the swollen Arno burst its banks in the worst flooding for more than 500 years. That plaque is a handy reminder that you never know what is around the corner.

My sympathy goes out to all those who have suffered in the terrible weather we endured in the UK and Republic of Ireland in the run-up to the recent holiday break and beyond. Bing Crosby never sang about dreaming of a wet Christmas, but that has been the reality of life for lots of people across the nation. As our news report this week explains, that was not the only storm to affect fashion retailers, many of which had a less-than-enjoyable Christmas trading period. One successful menswear independent based in the south of England told me in Florence this week that, after a highly satisfactory 2013, “Christmas did not happen”. Other indie owners I spoke with reported having a better time of it, but as I warned in this column on August 24, Christmas trading has become “unpredictable, somewhat unreliable and certainly not a festival of full-price selling any longer”. As you plan 2014 it may be worth bearing in mind that new reality.

The other major factor to consider is your approach to online retailing, which was the success story of the Christmas and New Year period yet again for the best of the major high street retailers. Even a Luddite like myself, who is not known for my love of online shopping, placed two orders on Christmas Day itself - yes, really - to buy a couple of things that Santa had forgotten to bring me.

There was no particular urgency about them, but both items (retro football shirts, if you must know) arrived within a few days, which was very pleasing. Even I am beginning to see the appeal of online shopping.

A good fashion independent-owning friend of mine who operates just one store in the south of England told me that his online sales in 2013 had accelerated from about 8% of his business to 35% - and neither he nor his online trading team can explain why. He does not advertise his site and does not pay for increasingly expensive pay-per-click advertising, but 95% of his online sales now come from addresses more than 50 miles from his store.

My prediction is that 2014 will continue to see a rise in online shopping, although I still expect well-run physical stores to succeed.

But it’s going to be a lot of hard work. While I don’t expect the economy to get any worse, the reality is that the cost of living for many people will continue to go up faster than their income. Low prices will continue to be attractive - I don’t expect Primark to suffer a slump this year - but I still expect desirable and irresistible merchandise at a premium price to find plenty of takers. Tight control of inventory will be essential this year too.

It’s all about moving forward sensibly, as we have done with the refreshed look of Drapers this week. Do let us know what you think of it.

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