After the sixth wettest spring on record, the UK summer has been pretty dismal so far. Retail Week looks at how clothing retailers are coping with the unseasonable weather.


The wet start to summer means shoppers are not buying dresses and shorts

Superdry, Monsoon Accessorize, JD Sports and N Brown are among the British retailers that have noted ‘unseasonable weather’ in their recent trading updates – a trend that has continued from last season and transitioned into the spring.

As the weather finally gets warmer and promotional season approaches, will fashion retailers have enough time to turn the tide? 

Riding the storm

It’s that time of the year when T-shirts, shorts and summer dresses should be flying off the shelves, but what should be happening and what has been happening are two very different stories.

While retailers are generally optimistic for the ‘summer of sport’ after UK retail sales saw a “modest rebound” in May, non-food sales have continued to slip, according to the most recent report from the BRC. Non-food sales, including clothing, dropped 2.4% in May compared with a 0.7% decrease during the same period last year.

A retail source told Retail Week that since the middle of May, the lack of seasonal weather has had a “huge impact” on the fashion sector and has made things “really difficult” across the board.

One fashion retailer said that denim sales were up 30% year on year, despite the business sitting on piles of summer stock yet to be sold, while another said that sales of knitwear, sweaters and outwear are “considerably up” on last year while summer sales across the likes of dresses and shorts are down.

Peel Hunt retail analyst John Stevenson agrees, calling the lead-up to summer “an absolute washout”.

“Until the weather changes, there isn’t really a catalyst for people to get out there and buy spring/summer clothes,” he said. “It has only really turned this week, in terms of seeing the warm weather really stick, so most clothing retailers are going into the mid-season sales with more stock than they would have liked.”

Summer shifts

With sunnier days surely on the horizon, is the damp atmosphere finally set to brighten and change?

Despite cut-price sales activity due to kick off for some brands in early July, others won’t begin discounting until the end of August. Regardless of timelines, fashion retailers will be trying to reap the rewards of summer and shift summer stock before the autumn temperatures fall once again. 

Retail Week understands that two well-known clothing retailers are bringing their seasonal sales forward to try and mitigate the effects of the slow summer so far.

Kantar fashion client manager Scarlet McNicol says that there has been a shift in consumer behaviour in relation to the weather. More than ever, customers are making impulse purchases based on weather changes rather than the planning ahead for shoppers that may have been the norm years ago.

But she adds that there is hope for fashion retailers: seasonal trends are also being disrupted – and merging into one another – which is only likely to continue.

“It is very much about being flexible and giving shoppers the inspiration and education on how to pair those pieces together or style them to cross-seasonal categories,” McNicol says. ”You can still sell those [summer] collections that are your front, centre and core collections now, but with a slight twist to adapt to the weather.”

With retailers banking on pent-up demand, the sunny weather lasting and England at least remaining in the Euros, there is still some light at the end of the tunnel before the summer season draws to a close.

Optimistic outlook

But the big question remains: what does this all mean for retailers looking ahead to the rest of the year?

One source said that while he remains confident in summer spend picking up over the coming weeks, the ongoing cost-of-living concerns as well as the outcome of the upcoming general election are both contributing to shaky consumer sentiment.

Stevenson is more optimistic. He says the outlook ahead of autumn/winter and the run-up to Christmas is looking much brighter than last year.

“With pricing stability, consumers having more money, and normal weather going into the autumn, consumers are going to be much better placed than they were last year,” he says, adding that a poor spring “in no way” guarantees a better autumn.

“It was a really hard autumn/winter last year, which rolled into a fairly weak spring/summer, but the consumer is going to be much better set this year. It will be a better environment for the fashion retailers.”