The assumption that recovering consumer confidence translates directly to recovering high street sales is now outdated. High Street like for like sales slipped again in July for the third consecutive month while bars and restaurants faired better. The old economic model no longer works.
Habits are hard to break and just because the consumer has a little more cash in their pocket at the end of the month doesn’t naturally flow that they will be spending it on the High Street. Fashion makes up a large percentage of high street spending and, as is often the case, the weather hasn’t helped summer sales this year, but the changing shopping behaviour we have seen in the grocery market is also working its way through to other markets and fashion is not immune.
Consumers know that at the end of the season retailers will mark down summer clothing. The problem is that the end of the season coincides with the weather starting to warm up and the start of the school summer holidays. Compound that with a typical British summer which is warm but rarely hot, often wet and sometimes just cold and it shouldn’t be a surprise that High Street fashion sales are weak.
Customer shopping behaviour is also shifting online and while most are offering ranges online, the seasons are still out of sync with the needs of the consumer.
The buying seasons are wrong. The principle of convenience shopping in grocery is that you can buy what you need when you need it. Translating that into fashion, buying summer clothes when you need it, means the customer will buy during the summer sales. If summer fashions were launched later, just before the point that those fashions are to be worn, retailers would benefit from more profitable sales, customers would benefit from better availability.
Some retailers have benefited from the changes in grocery shopping behaviour over the last 5 years, and there will be early movers in fashion who will also benefit in the long run but any shift in buying pattern will have to be coupled with another compelling reason to buy if it is to compete with other retailers in sales mode.
The question is who will rise to the challenge? Perhaps Next which is already very clear in its promotional calendar? Perhaps a discount retailer like Primark that has strong pricing all year round? Perhaps a dark horse bubbling under the radar with less to lose like PEP&Co? Time will tell but not before another few months of sales decline we predict.