Fashion sales in March have continued to decline, with young fashion operators suffering double digit like-for-like declines in the past fortnight, prompting fears that consumer confidence will not recover in time to halt a double-dip recession.
Retailers contacted by Drapers said spring fashion sales to date had been dire and that rising unemployment and the ongoing threat of job losses meant consumers were not in the mood to spend unless at a discount. Jane Norman and Dorothy Perkins were among the retailers on Sale this week while young fashion brand Henleys put its retail division into administration.
One womenswear chief executive said: “It wouldn’t be wrong to say there is a worry that a silent or creeping recession is taking place. Trade is the worst it has been for ages. Customers want markdown or they won’t buy. There are no really strong trends - we’re still selling a lot of dresses yet the season look is separates. Occasionwear is very tough.”
However, sunshine warmed some spots last week, with footfall up 3% for the week ended March 20 according to Experian. Fashion sales saw a 1.8% like-for-like uplift over the same period according to BDO’s Sales Tracker, though the financial firm qualified this with a statement that the rise had not been experienced by all retailers.
Meanwhile, retailers said the Government needed to act to help settle consumer fears. Chancellor George Osborne was due to announce his budget as Drapers went to press but retailers did not expect it to go far enough and called for extra measures to reduce inflation, which had hit 4.4% in February.
One young fashion chief executive said: “We didn’t all put our prices up with the VAT rise on January 1 - price rises were phased in - yet trade since then has fallen off. That illustrates this is about customer psychology.”