It is easy to mock retailers’ excuses about the weather, but fair weather really can be their friend or foe at this time of year.

It is easy to mock retailers’ excuses about the weather, but fair weather really can be their friend or foe at this time of year.

The current heatwave is very good news for ice-cream vendors and sunscreen sales, but with many people rushing to the parks and gardens, or to the swimming pools and beaches, it is not such good news for some retailers.

We will hear on Friday morning what the weekend heatwave (and the success of somebody called Andy Murray at Wimbledon) did to trading at John Lewis, for example, but on past form John Lewis will have struggled to hold overall sales last week.

John Lewis has always been a bit contra-cyclical when it comes to the weather, as when it’s hot people tend not to like to go to stuffy big department stores, particularly if it involves driving to out-of-town shopping centres, when they would rather lounge around in the sun instead. And, although fashion is increasingly important to the business, much of what John Lewis sells is indoor focused - homewares and furnishings. The rapid growth of online shopping has helped reduce the dependence of the business on High Street footfall, but John Lewis still quite likes cloudy wet weather at this time of year and they certainly got it in 2012!

By contrast, John Lewis’ sister company Waitrose will have enjoyed bumper trading conditions at the weekend, as barbecue and picnic fare flew off the shelves, along with bottles of Pimms and lemonade. A useful new barometer of the weather is the Waitrose “Pimms-ometer”. In theory, sales of cold weather products - indoor food such as soup and pies, for instance - will have suffered enough to offset the sales of hot weather products and outdoor food, but on balance a bit of sunshine at this time of year can do wonders for a business like Waitrose.

Were you thinking about buying some new cushions and curtains at the weekend? No? Well, a year ago that fine purveyor of homewares Dunelm was finding the unusually wet weather ideal for its trade and it was honest enough to admit that 6% or 7% of its bumper 10.4% LFL sales growth in the last quarter had been weather-driven.  Against that tough comparative some feared that Dunelm’s LFL sales could be as much as 10% down in the last 3 months, but in fact LFL sales were only down by 2.8%.

And when it’s raining and the roads are wet and slippery do you think about buying a new bike? No? Well, a year ago you’d have been in good company, because Halfords’ cycling sales were nearly 10% down in the last quarter. But a year later and against that soft comparative cycling sales bounced by as much as 15.5% in the last 3 months, with cyclists responding to the drier weather conditions. And, in the same way, Halfords reported much improved sales of car cleaning products (who washes the car when it’s raining?) and better sales of camping equipment.

Garden retailers certainly didn’t enjoy the wet spring last year and they found the cold spring this year even worse, but the last few weeks will have seen them regain some lost ground and DIY retailers will have also got rid of some of their unsold stocks of garden chairs.

Traditionally, retailers like HMV and WH Smith preferred poor summer weather (if you can picture people stuck indoors reading books or watching DVD’s), but these days the impact of the weather is more neutral and WH Smith’s Travel shops do a roaring trade in sales of moderately priced bottles of water when temperatures soar.

As for fashion, well, if you want to buy a new t-shirt or a pair of sandals and shorts, then you will do it when there’s a heatwave on, but fashion retailers will be increasingly conscious of the container loads of autumn knitwear and coats on the way to these shores and starting to worry about a prolonged hot spell. With summer only just getting underway, it is amazing to hear that the first autumn clothing lines will start arriving in Marks & Spencer stores on July 25th…

About Nick Bubb

Nick Bubb has been a leading retailing analyst for over 30 years. He is a well-known commentator on UK retailing and is a founder member of the influential KPMG/Ipsos “Retail Think-Tank”.