Seasonal shift leaves retailers out of sync

13th Feb 2017

Retailers are struggling to keep pace with customers’ changing shopping habits, according to research by consumer insight company Kantar Worldpanel.

The overall value of retail sales dropped by 2% in 2016 compared to 2015, found Kantar, which said the fall in sales was due to shoppers doing things differently to before.

In particular, many customers are waiting for the sales and buying things out of season, and holding on to them until they’re needed. This growing trend has left shops with leftover stock, which they then have to discount in order to sell it.

“These companies are stuck in a rigid, seasonal buying cycle which no longer reflects how consumers shop,” says Glen Tooke, consumer insight director at Kantar, whose data covered clothing, footwear and accessories sold by both high-street retailers and supermarkets.

The drop in sales was across all types of clothing, including children's, found Kantar, which stated: “This is the deepest decline the market has seen since August 2009, knocking nearly £750m off its total value in the 52 weeks ending 18 December 2016.”

Many layers

Dr Dimitrios Tsivrikos, a consumer and business psychologist at UCL, has suggested that the fall in sales over winter also points to customers adopting a new attitude to their wardrobes and taking a 'layering’ approach to shopping - for instance, buying a lighter spring jacket and a hoodie, which can then be worn together or separately across different seasons, rather than buying a thick winter coat.

But online shopping too is having a major impact on customer habits, with the British Footwear Association (BFA) pointing out that e-purchases now account for a quarter of overall sales of footwear in the UK. The association believes that the growth of online is doing away with seasons as collections change on a much more regular basis, and that retailers are making products available all year round to reflect consumer demand.

It’s further evidence of the complex, multi-layered and constantly evolving customer behaviour highlighted in The Institute of Customer Service’s recent Customer of the Future 2025 report. The report emphasised that it will be more important than ever for organisations to understand how customers’ diverse needs, preferences and behaviours are changing – and to develop strategies to adapt and respond.

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