When Debenhams rolled out the weather excuse earlier this month when issuing a profit warning, the industry scoffed and its share price plummeted.
However, it appears that other retailers have now followed suit. Yesterday the ever-reliable Next put its slow start to the current financial year beginning January 28 down to the cold snap.
Debenhams excuse of a snowy January may not cut the mustard in terms of an unusual trading backdrop - and I write this when a lot of the north of England and Scotland are in the midst of a blizzard - but snow in late March does.
Next has not been alone in blaming the bitter conditions on a sales slowdown this month. John Lewis today said that its womenswear sales had plummeted 10% last week, although it acknowledged the tough Mother’s Day comparatives last year has also played a part. Swedish fashion giant H&M said yesterday “unfavourable weather” meant that sales had not met expectations in the three months to February 28.
In fact, the entire high street will have been affected by this blustery spring, according to Verdict practice leader Maureen Hinton.
“It must be hitting [fashion retailers] hard. Last year we [had weather] in the low twenties. Warm weather encourages you to go out and shop, now retailers are left with excess stock,” she says.
Hinton believes many a fashion retailer will be experiencing a disappointing quarter at the beginning of the year. She says: “If it goes on any longer they will really start to worry.”
A quick glance online shows that M&S, which analysts Nomura claimed has suffered a double digit decline in clothing sales over the four weeks to February 17, is advertising a 70% off Spring Clearance Event while Debenhams is shouting about its Spring Half Price Sale. And they are not alone.
Discounting is unfortunately the only route some retailers have according to Hinton, who says only truly unique products can justify full price price tags right now.
“They don’t want to be carrying over stock and when big retailers start to discount it drags all prices down,” says Hinton.”Everyone needs to follow to be competitive. You get a disease; a virus that affects the whole of the high street.”
Although most fashion players will be impacted, Hinton says fast fashion specialists with a flexible supply chain will be best prepared to deal with the excess stock.
“Those who are working on a traditional model where they buy in bulk a long time out will be suffering most,” she says.
As fashion retailers pray for the sun to start shining, the industry can expect some pretty gloomy updates over the next few months.