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Consumers turned to secondhand, but new fashion struggled online in September

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today Oct 22, 2019
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Online sales failed to provide much relief for the beleaguered UK retail sector last month and fashion was one of the categories with the biggest problems. But there were suggestions that one issue that has dented fashion sales for some time (Brexit) might actually help the sector if consumers can just have some clarity on what’s happening about the UK’s EU exit in time for the Christmas shopping season.


Charity drives last month aimed to get consumers into secondhand stores and away from buying new either in-store or online



But first, last month’s figures. While e-sales just about managed to rise (it would be a rare and truly disastrous month if they didn’t), key fashion categories actually went into reverse. Looking at the headline numbers, online sales limped up by just 0.6% year-on-year in September (excluding travel sales).

Though above the three-month average of +0.1%, September failed to match the six- and 12-month rolling averages (respectively +2.3%, +5.3%), and plummeted well below the five-year average (+10%). The figures come from the IMRG Capgemini Online Retail Index with over 200 retailers being tracked every month.

Now for fashion. The report said that after a reasonably strong August, clothing recorded the first fall in over two years, dropping 1.2%. The poorest performance was seen in menswear, which dropped 22.5%. Womenswear, footwear and accessories also declined, by 13.3%, 9.8% and 9% respectively.

The report said this may have been reflective of a number of initiatives in September that aimed to shift consumer attitudes towards sustainable fashion. There were various charity programmes running, all aiming to deter people from buying new during the month and to choose secondhand instead.

Elsewhere the picture wasn’t all negative. Health & beauty saw sales up by 16.4%. Even home & garden saw a slight reprieve from last month’s decline, up 1.22% overall. However, with a number of the other categories continuing their downwards trajectories, including electricals (-15.47%) and gifts (-18.2%), the few rises weren’t enough to push up the month’s overall average.

Bhavesh Unadkat, principal consultant in retail customer engagement at Capgemini, said: “September’s results will have triggered some clear warning signs for retailers as sales are stuttering at the beginning of the ‘golden quarter’. Nine out of the 15 sectors we track reported negative performance in comparison to last year.   

“Most notably, the clothing sector was down 1.2%, despite the average basket value remaining flat at £78 and the conversion rate increasing by 2% against last year, which indicates that low demand is the driver for the poor performance. 

“Increasing pressures are hitting consumer spending, with low confidence in the political climate and the warmer weather at the start of the month both attributed by retailers as critical factors in this month’s results. Adding to this, September saw a push for sustainability and reduction in fast fashion, with initiatives throughout the month discouraging new season purchases.”

Andy Mulcahy, strategy and insight director at IMRG, added: “There is only one possible positive factor, which might seem slightly surprising, that could help stimulate sales growth – Brexit. In the six months following the June 2016 referendum result, many expected the economic impact to be negative, but actually a lot of the indicators were stronger than anticipated. If the UK does leave the EU by end of October, while that brings challenges and disruption for businesses, in the short term, the average person isn’t likely to notice any immediate impact. 

“Given that 2016 precedent, should Brexit happen, there might be a collective sigh of relief that the tedium of hearing about it is finally over. We could see a degree of buoyancy in spending just in time for Black Friday and Christmas, which though temporary, could help get retailers through what otherwise might prove a tough peak trading period.”

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