It’s raining its pouring……the impact of the British weather on the Retail Sector

Published: 2 September 2015

As many of us return from our summer break it has been another unpredictable one with much of the UK experiencing significant rainfall in August, and the North of England hardly having a summer at all.  Apart from being deeply frustrating for those that needed some sunshine it does  seem that this is now the norm, and not a freak act of God – with the impact on retail sales proving to be devastating!

A seasonal temperature change of 1 ˚C higher or lower than average can lead to a 1% change in sales according to The Weather Channel.  In a £300billion sector this equates to a loss or gain of around £3billion, hardly a number to be ignored.

So how has the high street faired this summer?  The overall feedback seems to be that despite the lousy weather conditions impacting summer sales, both multiples and independents are optimistic about the autumn season given the strong start to the autumn / winter period.  A leading footwear retailers Exec Chair have said: “Spring / Summer 2015 was ok, up on last year but not as good as we would have hoped, autumn however has started well with encouraging sales of ankle boots, and we are optimistic for the season ahead.”  (Drapers Record 22/8/15.)  Equally positive the Chief Executive of a major fashion brand states that spring / summer has been really successful with like for like in double digit territory – early autumn sales are following the same pattern and generally we are feeling confident for the upcoming season. 

However others have seen a less positive result. Fashion retailers have suffered the worst according to a survey of 85 mid-sized retailers including French Connection, Oasis and Hobbs, with sales at high street stores down by 1.4%. Homewares sales fell by 1.1%, a surprise given the buoyant housing market.

So the hope is that in the absence of a real summer a more seasonal winter could be on its way, and will boost sales in traditional purchases such as coats, boots and knitwear.  This would be the exact opposite of autumn 2014 when temperatures were 1.5 ˚C warmer than normal and clothing and footwear sales, which account for 13% of all retail trade, were hit hard; the estimated impact of this was £700millon in September and October alone (Telegraph 9/1/15).  An intelligent conclusion therefore seems to be that in a totally season orientated sector there are no seasons – is this an opportunity or threat?

If it’s going to be ‘opportunity’, retailers need to adjust their buying patterns to enable the staggered delivery of goods and work to ensure they can flex their ordering processes, making them more agile. The opportunity seems to have more fluid ordering processes and supply chain mechanisms to enable a response that is closer to the online competition.  It is able to deliver to customer demand in what is a seasonally lead industry - it would be great to be able to truly forecast the weather!  In the absence of a crystal ball the secret would appear to be to create more malleable buying, supply and merchandising processes to stay ahead.

Tamsin Terry-Lush is a Principal Consultant in the Berwick Partners’ Retail Practice

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