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Sunny forecast puts the gloom into the high street

Retailers take a further hit as Indian summer adds to decline in sales of clothing and footwear

Soaring temperatures are set to be a further blow to the high street this weekend as retailers battle against the fourth-quarter rent day, tough comparisons with last year and diminishing consumer confidence.

Sales at fashion retailers last week fell at the second-fastest rate this year, tumbling by an average of 7%. According to the BDO High Street Sales Tracker, for the week to September 25, clothing sales fell by 7.2% and footwear dropped by 5.4%.

In a further hit to retailers, figures from business group CBI revealed clothing sales dropped by 36% in September compared with the same period last year.

Stores across the high street have rails packed with coats, chunky knitwear and winter boots, yet most parts of the UK have been enjoying an Indian summer, with the Met Office predicting temperatures are likely to soar to 27°C this weekend.

Ken Bartle, chairman at footwear retailer Jones Bootmaker, said the decline in sales last week was “absolutely” due to the warmer weather. He said: “The hot weather has had a fairly substantial effect on footfall for us already this week.”

This week’s sales are in stark contrast to the same time last year, when footwear retailers were experiencing a spike in boot sales.

Colin Temple, chief executive of footwear retailer Schuh, said: “The weather is definitely killing the trade in boots.”

Bartle added: “We had a very big increase in sales this week last year and we are expecting an equally substantial decrease this year.”

Richard Kirk, chief executive of value chain Peacocks, said that money not spent during this spell of warm weather would not be recouped at a later date. “The economy is obviously difficult; we’re finding that in the value end of the market in particular, people are short of money.”

Arden analyst Nick Bubb warned that this Saturday could be a disaster for fashion retailers.

He added: “John Lewis already complained about Saturday being too warm and sales of knitwear have fallen through the floor.”

However, some retailers are looking to take advantage of the warmer weather.

Lifestyle retailer Fat Face kicked off its mid-season Sale on Wednesday a day later than last year, selling the remainder of its high-summer products.

Chief executive Anthony Thompson said of the sun predicted over the weekend: “If I’m honest, it couldn’t have worked out better.”

Paul Turner-Mitchell, co-owner of young fashion indie 25 Ten Boutique in Rochdale, said he had put leftover spring 11 stock back into the store after hearing about the soaring temperatures and sold several maxi dresses this week. “What is good in terms of the weather is it brings out the office workers in their lunch hour and they make that impulse purchase.”

The hot weather coincides with September rent day (September 29), which has added an extra pressure to the already beleaguered high street.

Anne-Marie Laing, partner at corporate advisory and restructuring company Zolfo Cooper, said: “Every September is a retailer’s nightmare… they’ve been building cash for a big Christmas season and have paid suppliers and then need to pay the quarter’s rent before they’ve even sold that stock.”

Laing said retailers may resort to promotions in the coming weeks to help generate cash. Retailers including LK Bennett and Karen Millen have already launched mid-season Sales.

Trading snapshot

  • Sales at fashion retailers for the week to September 25 fell at the second-fastest rate this year, with sales dropping 7% according to BDO High Street Sales Tracker
  • Clothing sales fell by 7.2% and footwear sales dropped by 5.4%
  • Sales of clothing dropped year on year by 36% in September according to the CBI
  • LK Bennett, Debenhams and Karen Millen are among the retailers to have launched mid-season Sales
  • Boot sales saw a major surge this week last year
  • Quarterly rent day falling on September 29 has added extra pressure on retailers
  • Temperatures this weekend are set to be 10ºC higher than average for this time of year

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