Is the economic climate creating a mixed bag?

It was during my time as Retail Manager for a French luxury home wear brand that I tried to understand the daily sales fluctuations for our central London boutique. Long serving staff explained that the current sales patterns were as unpredictable as the weather, and incidentally that these two were highly correlated. Sunny days brought a higher footfall and higher takings.

With the British summer threatening to be very indecisive it is no surprise that clothing retailers are reacting by bringing forward their summer 2010 sale as early as the beginning of June. The fact that many have gone straight to a 70% discount rather than the usual 20% off, means that it’s serious business. But how early can we bring a season forward without shooting ourselves in the foot? Are we giving the garments on the shop floor a justified shelf life, or are we panicking discount selling due to the economic climate?

The clothing cycle of old meant designers delivered summer stock in January, to sell until the end of July at full price and be put in the sale in August, in time to make way for the autumn winter collection arriving in September in time for autumn. A new cycle is forcing designers to deliver earlier and earlier due to retailer’s demands, but who wants to buy summer shorts in January or winter coats in July? Is it our weather pattern which is changing or are stores trying to outwit the weather by clearing stock earlier on in the calendar? I admit I don’t know the answer, but I remembered last summer I couldn’t get a single pretty dress at the end of June as the winter stock was already fully in store and I was left with the dregs in the sale.

Does this make sense – no summer dresses come July and no woollies in December? As a designer a mixed collection with trans seasonal elements is the safest option, meaning it covers all weather conditions no matter when it’s delivered. Maintaining control of retail outlet such as a website means security against footfall fluctuations, and exclusive styles to your website and continuity items can be guarded against unnecessary early discounting.

For anyone who’s a retail fanatic and didn’t see Mary, Queen of Shops advising the failing bakery Maher & Sons should catch up on BBC i-player! There are many valuable retail lessons to be learnt!

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