What happens in retail when the forecast quite literally doesn’t align with retailer’s expectations? With 2023’s Autumn temperatures exceeding the seasonal norms, the retail industry has found itself navigating unchartered territory. With the unseasonably warm weather effecting sales from Winterwear to gardening supplies, we will explore in this blog how climate has affected commerce and disrupted consumer behaviour and sales trends.
British clothing company Superdry profits were lower than expected in 2023 after trading was “significantly below management expectations.” The abnormally mild Autumn, with the hottest September on record around the world accounting for the delayed uptake of Autumn/Winter range and hurting sales in the months prior to October 2023. CEO Julian Dunkerton, commented, “Whilst we have seen modest signs of improvement through the recent spell of colder weather, current trading has remained challenging.” Similarly, global fashion retailer, H&M have reported stagnant stales over the 4th Quarter of 2023, with sales plunging by 10% in September. Although net sales overall were up 6% for the full year to November 30th, the retail giant blames the unusually hot weather hampering their sales of Autumn & Winter ranges.
With fashion retailers frequently following seasonal trends and releasing Spring/Summer and Autumn/Winter lines, it is no wonder that the industry has been affected by the swift changes in temperature and climate in recent years. With many benefitting from weather-based advertising planned months in advance, the unpredictable weather patterns have meant overall demand for Winter Wear is much lower during the months one would expect, with consumers choosing to delay purchases on a need and value of goods basis. Equally with reports from retailers being released quarterly, just one or two weekends of unusual weather could make a huge difference in the outlook for the entire quarter.
With inventory coming in for the Winter line while temperatures remain high, stores are forced to postpone their Winter promotions, instead with some opting to maximise their potential for sales on leftover stock from Summer months, slashing prices and therefore slowing down sales profits.
Fashion isn’t the only sector who experienced the effects of unseasonal weather with garden centre giant Dobbies reporting pre-tax losses of £130.8m in the 52 weeks prior to 5th March - this was a steep drop from the £21.3m loss the previous year. The gardening goods retailers attributed this loss to “adverse weather in Spring 2022 exacerbated by the macroeconomic conditions resulting from the Russian invasion of Ukraine, inflation and the cost of living crisis.” Their short-term cash preservation of discounting stock and reduced intake and product availability then slowed trading in the second half of the year. The potential of a colder Spring 2024, could further affect garden centre sales which generally boom at the start of the traditionally warmer months. The group has since repositioned the business “with an absolute focus on value and has continued to develop a robust and efficient platform to support resilience and future growth.”
With unseasonal and unusual weather becoming more and more frequent, retailers across the board need to factor in these events to continue to be able to serve customers efficiently. Perhaps the adjustment of how retail sees inventory as seasonal would be a good place to start, with consumers keeping Winter items close to the front of their wardrobes for longer with colder Springs and warmer Autumns on the horizon. Customer insights gathered from loyalty schemes and consensual data collection from the year previously would allow retailers to be able to plan ahead for the year ahead’s demands.
With the repercussions of the balmy Autumn weather this past year evident on retail sales, one thing becomes abundantly clear – Mother Nature is an unpredictable business partner. Seasonal cycles have traditionally always guided retail trends and inventory from month to month, but with the cold weather appearing to come later and later each year, is it time for retailers to embrace flexibility in their calendar of retail trends and be ready to adjust their strategies in this ever-changing climate – both literally and figuratively? As the winds of change blow, perhaps the challenges faced this year can be used as a learning curve to turn these into opportunities for a brighter, climate-responsive future on the retail landscape.