Multiples and department stores continued to face a tough retail environment in February, citing cold weather, uncertainty over Brexit and fragile stock markets as factors that stifled trade.
Retailers have spoken of the challenging environment, noting that consumers are still preferring to pick up Sale products rather than new spring clothing – encouraged by weather that turned colder across the UK in February.
Many launched flash Sales in a bid to boost footfall and traffic. Asos.com had 20% off new-season product this week and New Look offered 25% off dresses. Meanwhile Marks & Spencer was discounting women’s and men’s wear by 25%, and Debenhams was giving 20% off knitwear and shirts.
One boss of a young fashion chain said: “It’s tough out there. It might be down to the weather – it’s been cold and to be honest, it’s not the easiest trading environment. Customer confidence isn’t high. We are trading OK. Figures are about level year on year but customers are still buying clothes in the Sales.”
“Trading has been really tough over the past couple of weeks,” agreed the managing director of one premium men’s and women’s wear brand. ”We came off Sale and thought it may have been that but it seems like everyone is in a similar boat, particularly in London. Concerns around Europe and the economy may be starting to take effect.”
The buying director of one menswear multiple said: “It hasn’t been easy and the weather hasn’t helped things. Tailoring is still doing better than casualwear, as people are not in that spring frame of mind yet. However, we have seen a bit of traction on trans-seasonal pieces and colour updates on core pieces.”
John Lewis reported just a 0.9% year-on-year fashion sales increase for the week to February 27, as shoppers were reluctant to buy into new-season product. The department store group’s fashion sales grew just 2.4% in February 2016 compared with February 2015.
The gloomy outlook is in line with figures from the BDO High Street Sales Tracker that showed clothing sales were down 2% year on year, while footwear sales fell 12% for the week to February 28 compared with the same week in 2015.
Chairman of department store chain Morleys, Bernard Dreesmann, told Drapers that like-for-like sales across the group were down 3% in the three weeks to February 20, adding that fashion and accessories were having a difficult time, although menswear was “holding up”.
Dreesmann attributed the tough start to the year and the ”uncertainty” to several reasons.
“There’s huge volatility on the stock market, uncertainty over Brexit, and the weather has been cooler than the year before,” he said. ”I don’t think that has helped.
However, Slaters buying manager Tony Links said the 22-store menswear chain had benefited from the cooler weather: “The cold spell has worked in our favour, as it’s encouraged people to buy knitwear and coats. We’ve held our margins, as we don’t mark down in January and February.”