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Weathering the storm: Retail’s damp summer?

The weather can be retail's worst enemy. EDITD see if the damp British summer has affected sales of certain trends & how retailers merchandised successfully.
Weathering the storm: Retail's damp summer? | EDITED
  • Weathering the storm: Retail's damp summer? | EDITED
  • Weathering the storm: Retail's damp summer? | EDITED
  • Weathering the storm: Retail's damp summer? | EDITED
  • Weathering the storm: Retail's damp summer? | EDITED
  • Weathering the storm: Retail's damp summer? | EDITED
  • Weathering the storm: Retail's damp summer? | EDITED

This week the UK has been enjoying picture perfect weather. But don’t be fooled by the momentary glimpse of sunshine: the British summer has truly been a washout. Last month was the UK’s wettest June on record since 1910 and the Queen’s rain-drenched Diamond Jubilee was touted by industry press as a ‘damp squib’. It’s claimed that has had an effect on retail. Summer discounting has started earlier this year, causing a 2.5% jump in July apparel sales, but the overall impression of retail has been of grey skies.

The industry seems transfixed by the weather: Burberry are tweeting daily weather reports and Vogue tweet their Fashion Forecasts. What have the UK retailers done this year to ensure sales? And more to the point, what has been selling?

Earlier in July, John Lewis saw the silver lining, posting weekly sales profits with a 17% rise. Rather than bemoaning the opened heavens, they actually partially attributed the weather to this increase. So how did they capitalise on it? It seems the multi-department retailer’s extensive range of wellington boots helped out! Pushing ‘Festival Fever’ to the front of their womenswear homepage on the 7th July – the featured Hunter wellies (£85) had sold out of five sizes by the 15th July.

Online retailer Boohoo also capitalised on their trans-seasonal offering; their homepage on the 22nd June didn’t feature the pastels and florals seen elsewhere, but instead a khaki parka jacket. It didn’t speak of balmy nights, but it did reflect what was going on outside the window and showed the quick reactions of the digitally talented retailer.

Has Boohoo got it right though? The fast-fashion consumer is notoriously trend-hungry. Is a bit of damp underfoot really going to stop them from splurging on the season’s hits that they’ve seen splashed all over the fashion media and online worlds? We investigated, starting off by looking at the ‘Top Movers‘ from the period spanning the worst of the weather (May-July).

Starting with Boohoo, their best-sellers have been hordes of maxi dresses in Aztec, geo, fern and butterfly prints. Then there’s their popular tropical print midi dress. Tropical?! Well, yes, the SS12 shows paid hommage to the tropical prints: the fast-fashion shopper watches the trends, if not the weather! Look to John Lewis and you see a pattern which contradicts their enjoyment of the dull skies. Their Top Movers included linen dresses, linen trousers and striped and sleeveless t-shirts. Fairly summery, no?

Look further down the high-street and the data supports the theme emerging. At River Island: flower print, dipped hem maxi dresses and split front maxi skirts. For H&M: digital floral bodycon dresses, floral and tribal maxis and fresh white vests. Topshop: Pansy print bodycon, short sleeved shirts, sleeveless peplum tops and silk shorts. Silk shorts? Yikes, those stylish pins will be chilly!

It seems as though the weather really hasn’t put the consumer off the season’s trends. In which case, the poor sales couldn’t be blamed on having the wrong stock. But why are these trends being lapped up? Are fast-fashion consumers all pouring money into holidaying in warmer shores? Looking to the more affluent shopper may give us some answers.

Net-a-Porter‘s bestsellers across the same time period include the Alexander McQueen parka, a Isabel Marant boucle jacket and Reed Krakoff leather-trimmed cashmere. Not so summery here. Nor at My-Wardrobe, where McQueen ankle boots, Burberry shearling biker jackets and Red Valentino tweed jackets flew out. Matches found success with Burberry knits, Gladys mohair, Isabel Marant corduroy and MaxMara trenchcoats. All of which are a stark contrast to the fast-fashion shopper, and don’t support the theory that the high-street summer spend is down to mass exodus to warmer shores (for surely the luxury shopper would be headed to the warmest of those shores, right?).

This highlights a real difference in the high-end and highstreet shoppers. The luxury customer is not simply a fast-fashion consumer with a bigger budget. This is a myth perhaps created by the array of young bloggers drenched in designer wares. The reality, however, points to a very different attitude towards purchase. Luxury consumers are less driven by trends, planning and investing carefully, whilst staying brand-loyal. Sure, the occasional mammoth trend piece with a luxury price tag sells fast – the Mary Katrantzou’s this season – but this is not where the bulk of the luxury market lies. More often the luxury shopper saves trends for accessories and invests instead in classic outerwear, knits and jackets.

Meanwhile the fashion-frenzied consumers will buy what is instore or online when they’re there. Their main driving motivator is newness, which is why the trends sell so rapidly. With clever designing and buying, visual merchandising can reflect this and the weather; this consumer doesn’t necessarily want retailers to present them with a classic range of cosies just because it’s cold outside. Topshop do well at merging new and current season in their newsletters but for true genius, highstreet retailers should look to My-Wardobe’s temperature-driven newsletter selections.

More than ever, this teaches us to not always listen to the naysayers and skeptics. If retailers are blaming the weather for their downfalls, the likelihood is that they’re smoke screening deeper troubles. Checking the data will give you a truer picture, not just a forecast. Yes, retailers could scoop more sales by investing in more trans-seasonal pieces, as John Lewis did, but don’t stop backing the key season’s trends; just merchandise them correctly!