Fashion struggled in October says BDO high street sales tracker

today Nov 9, 2018
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October’s high street sales in the UK continued to be sluggish and while retailers might have been hoping to reverse October 2017’s 5.2% fall, a like-for-like drop of 2% this time meant they didn’t get their wish.

UK consumers were cautious in October

It’s been 13 months since BDO’s High Street Sales Tracker (HSST) recorded in-store sales growth in excess of 1% and the researchers said that “October is at risk of becoming a bogey-month for retailers.”

October 2017 had devastated fashion retailers after a promising (ie chilly) start to the autumn was stopped dead in its tracks with warmer weather. And there were some similarities this year - only without that chilly start. The beginning of the autumn fashion season stayed reasonably mild and while some retailers (such as Superdry on Thursday and John Lewis in recent weeks) said cold weather clothing sales were back on track, many retailers have struggled to shift their knits and coats.

BDO said that not even increased activity in the build-up to Halloween could stop the high street suffering the ninth negative month in a row for in-store sales this year as shoppers held out for discounts in the now traditional November discounting season.

Like-for-like sales of lifestyle goods and homewares have recorded negative growth in every month since January, and October was no exception. Neither sector recorded positive growth in a single week of October, falling by 2.9% and 4.1% respectively for the month as a whole.

But as mentioned, the cold snap at the end of the month provided a small boost to fashion sales, as shoppers were enticed to upgrade their winter wardrobes. But while the dip in temperature generated a like-for-like growth in the final two weeks of October, an overall sales dip of 1.3% for October – off a terrible base of -7.9% in October 2017 – was “gloomily familiar”, BDO said. Fashion has seen bricks-and-mortar sales fail to grow in seven of the 10 months of the year-to-date.

And there was little respite for retailers online either. Sales for October grew by just 10.5% - the third lowest monthly result on record for non-store since the HSST began recording this channel in 2010.

Sophie Michael, Head of Retail and Wholesale at BDO LLP, said the second poor October in a row was a real worry for stores as they enter the ‘golden quarter’.

“Retailers have seen margins squeezed all year and now they enter a lengthy discounting period in the lead-up to Black Friday,” she said.

“Such a weak start to the final quarter will have been tough to swallow, and this could easily be the 'new normal' for October as shoppers hold back their discretionary spending until they start seeing bargains.”

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