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Whether you’ve been keeping your purse strings tight or have spent the last four months avoiding a super-soaking in what has been one of the wettest starts to the year on record, the outcome remains the same: you’re not shopping. On top of that, Yemen’s Houthis have been attacking ships in the Red Sea, lengthening stock delivery times.

“A combination of sporadic weather hampering footfall, tighter belts hampering discretionary spend has meant sales volumes have been fairly flat over the past few months,” Harvir Dhillon, economist at the British Retail Consortium (BRC), tells TheIndustry.fashion. “Additionally holding back retailers, geopolitical tensions in the Red Sea have diverted shipping routes, meaning delays in receiving seasonal stock.”

So, soggy weather has kept us inside and if we do leave we can’t afford to spend much anyway, or if we can, the pieces we’re really after may not be available for purchase. It therefore makes sense that retail sales have been almost unwaveringly down in 2024, with January marking a 17-month low for UK retail, according to data from the BRC. So how can fashion retailers parse reluctant shoppers from their precious cash in the current climate?

Jonathan De Mello, founder and CEO at retail consultancy JDM Retail, attributes the slump “more to the cost of living than the weather”. “You can plan for the weather,” he says.

Manchester shoppers

Wet weather has dampened demand (Image: TheIndustry.fashion)

Phil Lanigan agrees. During Lanigan’s 34 years in retail, he has managed 10 footwear and apparel stores including Reiss, Aldo, Guess and Hackett’s flagship Regent Street store. He then co-founded his own men’s and womenswear store, Lanigan & Hulme, in 2017, and recently opened a kidswear branch in early April.

“The problem with retailers is that they depend on season to season too much,” says Lanigan. “If you have timeless fashion pieces then when the weather changes you’ve got continuity stock that you can swap in.”

“Climate change means that our normal seasons are becoming abnormal,” says the BRC’s Dhillon, “and fashion retail may need to become more versatile in its offering so it can weather increasingly common storms.”

Having worked in several retail chains before going independent, Lanigan explains that the best way to manage chain stores is to allow each store to manage itself as if it were independent.

“You need to change the stock package for each location,” he explains. “One package might work in York but that doesn’t mean it’s going to work somewhere in Scotland.”

He emphasises that a shop floor or window should be changing all the time. “If I need to plan the shop floor, I look at the weather report. It doesn’t make sense to put a pair of shorts in the window if it’s tipping it down outside.”

De Mello explains (via data from Barclays) that we’re shopping less frequently, but spending more when we do. He believes that there are several reasons for this, including increased time pressure and the fact that much of the inner-city workforce now spend several days per week at home. “Hybrid working means that people aren’t going to shops as much as they used to, where before they might have shopped during their lunch break or after work.”

Sports Direct

Sports Direct is majoring on experience at all stores including this one in Cardiff

Thus, when shoppers do emerge, retailers need to “stand out from the crowd” via investing in in-store experiences. Swedish minimalist brand Arket is known for its cafés, and Frasers Group’s Sports Direct flagships have gone under the hammer and emerged with basketball hoops and golf putting greens. He echoes Lanigan’s sentiment that stores need to be merchandised effectively and says that for fashion stores, the highest footfall is rewarded to those that build up brand equity via well kept stores with helpful staff.

“Provenance is key,” says Lanigan. “You want to walk into a store and get the best level of customer service and passion. Bored, uninterested staff are not going to sell anything, especially at the higher end of the market.”

“Know your demography and who it is you’re trying to appeal to,” says Dhillon. He says that the utilisation of segment-level data (age, income and life stage) is “increasingly important so that retailers can tailor their offer to specific customers.”

“Having a presence in popular shopping districts and retail parks is crucial to maximise footfall as well as having a strong online presence to appeal to digital natives,” he concludes.

But is the growing e-commerce space holding back in person retail? De Mello doesn’t think so. “For me, we’ve reached the peak of where online shopping can get,” he says. “The market share captures from physical retail.”

“Covid capitalised on online because at that point we had no choice but to order online, and online market shares have dropped since then. I don’t think it’s going to go back to those levels,” he continues. “Especially in the fashion sector, people still want to try on products.”

Gucci AW24

Customers are seeking timeless fashion. Gucci AW24 (Luca Bruno/AP)

And however grim the outlook may seem, Dhillon reassures us that headlines are not the full picture, and says that British shoppers have felt “increasingly optimistic about the state of the economy, and most see prospects for the year ahead as better than the last.” Interest rates currently lie at 5.25% but the Bank of England have announced this will decrease to 3% by the end of next year.

For Lanigan, the key to attracting custom is “giving people what they want”. He explains that in the current market, customers are leaning towards “timeless pieces that are going to last”, referencing the popularity of the navy jumpsuit within his womenswear lines.

“Retailers aren’t helping themselves, they need to go back to basics,” he concludes. “Fashion isn’t working right now. If you’re struggling, put your bread and butter in, don’t put your fashion in.”

With eight months left for 2024 to clean up its act, how retail will fare overall hangs in the balance. However, by focusing on each store as an individual and tightening quality as much as possible at every touchpoint, they have a much higher chance of emerging unscathed.



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