Oct 8, 2021
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Fashion was star retail category in September, Black Friday deep discounts less likely

Oct 8, 2021

September marked seven months of sustained retail recovery, a new UK retail report showed on Friday, although that could be bad news for consumers come Black Friday as the strength of the recovery could embolden retailers to rein-in their discounting. 

Photo: Pixabay/Public domain

That’s according to Sophie Michael, Head of Retail and Wholesale at accountancy and business advisory firm BDO who was speaking as the regular monthly BDO High Street Sales Tracker (HSST) was released on Friday.

So what was so good about September’s sales that make her think retailers are feeling confident? For a start, total like-for-like (LFL) sales, combined in-store and online, increased by 19.7% in September from a base of -1.3% for the equivalent month last year. And total non-store LFL sales were up 22.4%, showing online remains strong despite the reopening of stores.

And as well as online staying strong after having grown during the pandemic, certain categories have hung on to the must-have status that they achieved during lockdowns. Homewares, for instance, saw total LFL sales rise by 7.9% in September from a base of +19.1% for the same month last year. Growth in this sector is slowing, but September still marked homewares’ 17th consecutive month of positive LFL sales.

Yet fashion was the biggest winner last month with LFL sales up a stunning 32%, more than recovering from the 6.1% fall this time last year. Fashion recorded consistent growth in each week of September, the seventh consecutive month of positive sales with strong results across store channels in addition to online.

As mentioned though, Sophie Michael thinks today’s strength could leave retailers with a dilemma come November. 

“Despite the current economic uncertainty, retailers will be relieved that discretionary spending remained strong in September ahead of the all-important Golden Quarter”, she said. “However, the current challenges facing the sector mean this Christmas season could look very different. While shoppers have become accustomed to generous Black Friday discounting in recent years, strong consumer demand combined with supply chain delays and higher costs could mean far fewer deals on offer”.

And although this will “come as a relief to some retailers who will be released from having to take part in a race to the bottom on price at the sacrifice of profit margin”, there are also risks.

If consumers are having to pay full-price for this festive season’s goods, they’re less likely to be forgiving of poor service, even though they know there are supply chain and delivery issues.

“Retailers who miss the mark in the last quarter could face longer-term brand reputation issues and therefore delivering on customer promises must be a top priority”, Michael stressed.

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