After preparing for what would typically be one of their busiest seasons, retailers were badly impacted when the unseasonable cold wave hit our shores late in February. Low temperatures and heavy snowfall suddenly pushed all thoughts of spring to the back of the proverbial closet. Bad news for anyone anticipating the first glimpse of sun, but even worse for the major retailers relying on their Spring/Summer 2018 collections to generate revenue.
Momentum in the high street got off to a slow start this year, following a disappointing festive season sales period reported by retail heavyweights like House of Fraser. The cold spell further drove the downward trend for UK department stores and high street outlets as brand demand fell along with the temperature.
Brand Demand Drops
How Beast from the East Hit UK Fashion Retailers Online
Half-year profits for department store Debenhams fell by nearly 85% and retail sales fell nationwide as more shoppers stayed home throughout March. Figures from Retail Excellence Ireland also revealed that clothing, jewellery and electronics retailers were severely hit by the weather in Q1.
While the high street was feeling the freeze, online retail had experienced a boost as more shoppers made their purchases from the warmth of their homes and offices. Online sales in the UK were driven up in February to 13.1% year-on-year, which indicates shoppers were still spending and that the drop in brand demand may be directly linked to the summer collections.
UK Fashion Brands Who Suffered the Biggest Drop in Brand Demand
To investigate changes in brand demand in the wake of the ‘Beast’, MediaVision used a combination of trend data and search volume data within the date ranges corresponding to the bad weather. We then compared these to the same date ranges from 2017.
High Street Brands
Miss Selfridge was the high street brand that saw the biggest decrease in brand demand, down YoY at -26.40%. This was closely followed by New Look, with a -26.29% dip.
Interestingly, Uniqlo brand demand was up 22.39% YoY, while other fashion brands like Topshop, Zara and River Island floundered.
A combination of smart design and star power could have been the force keeping Uniqlo’s sales toasty-warm. The brand was still holding tight and offering coats and unpredictable weather-friendly pieces well into spring and promoting heavily through sexy partnerships (think collaboration with J.W. Anderson and Solange Knowles Ferguson’s recent performance art piece).
Debenhams experienced the biggest slide in brand demand, while House of Fraser, John Lewis and Selfridges just managed to hold steady. Luxury retailer Harvey Nichols was up YoY with a 21.82% increase.
Their online conversion grew significantly in February, and it seems like this investment is beginning to pay off.
Typically, when consumers think ‘new season’, they have a definite urge to go out and buy the latest season’s pieces. But this year, a delay in seasonal changes also caused a delay in the customer’s buying mentality. It’s impractical (and near impossible) to flaunt the newest spring fashions when you’re stuck in a snow.
A New Era for Agile Fashion
The fashion retail cycle typically includes big seasonal ‘drops’ or releases for Spring/Summer and Autumn/Winter, following a set cycle from year to year. The Beast from the East showed us that weather has a bigger impact on revenue than we would have once thought, and that fashion brands need to become more agile to keep up with milder winters, harsher springs and the resulting consumer behaviour change.
Strategies like micro drops and capsule collections could see a great deal more success than larger drops. After feeling the effects of the 2018 cold snap, fashion retailers should be looking towards a more flexible way of doing business.