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Seasonal collections ‘irrelevant’ as consumers evolve

Seasonal collections are now irrelevant as the shopping habits of modern UK consumers change.

Poor weather remains a stock explanation for stalling sales for most clothing retailers, but it is one that is slowly losing credence. There are growing signs that consumers’ shopping habits are changing, and seasonal product drops are increasingly irrelevant when shoppers prefer to buy across seasons.

Fundamental changes to buying and production schedules are required, but much can be achieved with suitable marketing and visual merchandising strategies to make retailers less vulnerable to the vagaries of the weather.

According to Verdict UK’s June 2016 clothing survey, 85.6 per cent of clothing shoppers say they like to buy clothing that they can wear straightaway for the current weather, while 51.4 per cent of clothing shoppers say they do not like to buy clothing well in advance for the season ahead – such as buying summer clothing in March/April when retailers launch their new spring/summer collections. Therefore, it increasingly evident that traditional buying cycles are no longer in sync with the way consumers like to shop for clothing. While unpredictable weather patterns have rendered seasonal drops obsolete, social media has shortened fashion cycles, and created a see now, buy now, wear now mentality while generating constant desire for new products.

These consumer attitudes are in-part reflected in retailer performances as major high street players such as Next and Primark struggle to drive like-for-like sales, while the winners in the market, such as SuperDry and Zara, have ensured product and merchandising strategies are more aligned to consumer shopping habits. SuperDry’s core offer is made up of predominantly transeasonal ranges, ensuring it is not aligned or over exposed to any particular weather, while Zara uses its vertically integrated supply chain to be weather responsive via flexible phasing, reactive product drops and frequent visual merchandising updates – where stylish layering is central to its instore display strategy.

With 75.6 per cent of clothing shoppers stating they feel that clothing retailers offer enough choice of transeasonal clothing –the problem of weak sales is not down to limited choice but is more to do with retailers’ marketing and merchandising strategies which have traditionally been aligned towards peak seasons. A quick glance at retailers’ current store propositions, which are showcasing new autumn/winter coats, fur and jumpers while the weather remains relatively warm, highlights why this system is counterintuitive. Forward-thinking retailers such as Burberry have made a radical shift away from traditional norms of product drops and will be making their collections ‘seasonless’, available to buy immediately and branding them February and September as opposed to the more traditional S/S and A/W – a strategy most retailers would do well to adopt.  

Merchandising focus

To ensure sales are less vulnerable to unpredictable weather patterns, retailers must ensure instore and online merchandising is reflective of the current weather, and window displays showcase outfits that can be worn straightaway, to draw shoppers in and drive impulse purchases. Outfit building suggestions – on mannequins or hangers instore, online and on social media channels – must also be used more effectively to showcase how current stock can be adapted for the weather such as layering during cold snaps in summer months.

Marketing strategies must be primarily tailored towards new trends (Boho, 90s grunge), star products (bomber jackets, romantic tops) or seasonal events (sporting events, back to school), much like the online players such as Asos and have achieved – rather than around new seasons, which is more common practice on the high street.

While there is little retailers can do to influence the weather, or to counter the decline in consumer confidence and willingness to spend during bad weather periods, there is much that can be done to ensure product is relevant and reflective of current weather.

Ultimately, product buying and phasing cycles will have to be fundamentally altered to become more flexible, frequent and responsive, but retailers must make quick wins with marketing and visual merchandising in the meantime.

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