Retailers would have been pinning their hopes on a sales boost from the earlier Easter, but some were instead left feeling under the weather.

Ahead of this week’s latest BRC-KPMG Retail Sales Monitor, the John Lewis Partnership had already unveiled a 24.1% slump in sales at Waitrose and a 2.3% decline at John Lewis in the week ending April 2 as the earlier Easter weekend dented performance.

But the BRC-KPMG data for March revealed that such pain reverberated across many other retailers and sectors – with fashion the hardest hit.

Clothing and footwear both recorded their largest decline in sales since September 2014, despite engaging in increased promotional activity during the four-day weekend.

The troubled categories found themselves rooted in the bottom two of the BRC-KPMG’s 12-sector league table by total sales – and affected retailers attributed the disappointing showing to an all-too-familiar reason.

Damp squibs

“Unsettled weather was not inductive to buy into the spring-summer ranges,” the BRC-KPMG report suggested. Unsettled weather in the UK – who would have thought it?

A spot of rain in March is far from an anomaly in our volatile climes and yet fashion retailers continue to beat the same drum, blaming unseasonably wet weather, cold weather or warm weather at various times of the year for their disappointing performance.

There is of course no denying that, to an extent, they are at the mercy of the weather gods.

During March, for instance, consumers rightly opted against kitting out their wardrobes with new T-shirts, shorts, skirts and summer hats while the rain poured.

But could fashion retailers be doing more to combat the elements?

The promotional battlefield was “intense” across the sector during March, the BRC-KPMG data said, with discounts deeper than they were in March 2015. Price cuts, however, were not enough to offset the impact of the weather and the timing of the Easter holidays.

Flexibility and creativity

In the past, fashion retailers have attempted to launch lines that appeal to shoppers across various seasons.

The coatigan is one example that springs to mind, but not too many others do. More creativity and invention when it comes to product development may help batten down the hatches at times when sales could be battered by wind and rain or melted when the sun unexpectedly puts its hat on.

Perhaps allowing greater flexibility when it comes to in-store ranging is required to help store managers adapt their offer on a weekly basis depending on predicted weather conditions.

However, when orders for stock are often placed months in advance, this also becomes problematic, raising the question of whether fashion retailers will soon need to consider their supply chain models and order goods on a ‘little and often’ basis, placing less bulk orders than they do now.

Whatever the answer to the conundrum, unless fashion retailers can find the elusive formula to combat the ever-unpredictable Great British weather, the forecast could see a black cloud hanging over them for some time yet.