April’s retail armageddon: Fashion and footwear’s epic fail

debenhams wet weather clothing

Debenhams, Oxford Street

If you didn’t trust all the data that’s come out so far suggesting April was well, a crappy month for UK fashion retail… think again. It was really was as bad as everyone thinks.

The latest proof today comes from the British Retail Consortium and KPMG’s monthly sales monitor. In a month when overall sales were disappointingly flat and comparable sales fell 0.9%, fashion proved a real drag. The overall monthly figure was rescued by food sales, which rose, but it seems not many people were drawn to all the warm weather clothes and shoes retailers were trying to tempt us with.

That meant clothing and footwear had a dire month. Not my words but BRC-KPMG’s. What went wrong? The cold spell kept shoppers away from SS16 ranges, that was very clear. It didn’t help that April also faced very tough comparisons, as April 2015 had recorded some of the best growth of the year for fashion categories.

Of course, people still bought stuff but the same trends as March continued this time, with that suff largely being outerwear, knitted leggings and essentials like socks and underwear. Those categories all did well while dresses, shorts and T-shirts showed “significant declines”.

Smart and occasionwear fared better. I suppose anyone going to a wedding or a new job had to invest in something smart whether they wanted to or not! Retailers noted a positive trend for separates (i.e. matched jackets and skirts or trousers), which doesn’t sound like April was the most exciting month for anyone working in the fashion sector.

Responding to the low footfall and low conversion rates, many retailers launched promotional activity or brought forward their midseason sales to attract shoppers.

And it wasn’t only adults not in the mood to buy new clothes for themselves. Childrenswear was the worst performing segment, as parents didn’t want to renew summer clothes that wouldn’t be worn for a while and that their kids might have grown out of before they got to wear them. 

But if clothing was bad, then footwear was worse. In fact, footwear was the worst performing category in April and stayed at the bottom of the rankings table on a three-monthly basis for the second month in a row. Again, the category was hit by cold and rainy weather this year (76% more rainfall than last year) compared with record sunshine last year (50% more hours last year).

So it’s no surprise that the sales deficit came mostly from sandals and canvas shoes while boots remained in demand. Additional promotional activity had only a limited impact in slowing the declines. It boosted online sales and men’s sales, but those still saw a decline, although the worst performing footwear segment was women’s.

Will May be any better? We’ll just have to wait and see. At least the sun’s been shining.

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