Newly released data reveals a challenging September for the UK retail sector, with fashion emerging as one of the hardest-hit segments.

According to the latest BDO High Street Sales Tracker, September saw only marginal growth in overall like-for-like retail sales, with a mere 0.2% increase compared to the same month last year. Online sales performed slightly better, growing by just 0.1%, failing to offset the previous year’s negative performance.

The fashion sector bore the brunt of these challenges, experiencing a substantial 3.4% decline in sales, largely driven by a 5% drop in physical store sales.

The underlying issue plaguing the fashion sector appears to be unpredictable weather patterns, a perennial concern for the industry. Adverse weather conditions, such as unseasonably warm temperatures when consumers are typically seeking cooler-weather clothing, can significantly impact sales.

Despite a lukewarm summer in the UK in 2023, the continuation of warm weather from August into September and October disrupted the launch of Autumn/Winter 2023 collections, making it challenging for shoppers to embrace sweaters, heavy jackets, coats, or boots when temperatures were still above 20°C.

Compounding the weather woes is the ongoing cost-of-living crisis, affecting many consumers despite signs of easing inflation. This confluence of factors creates an unfavorable environment for robust fashion sales.

Sophie Michael, Head of Retail and Wholesale at BDO LLP, commented, “Despite the return of shoppers from summer vacations and the start of the school term, September proved to be a challenging month for the retail sector. Sectors like fashion and homewares witnessed minimal growth, and in a high-inflation context, sales of discretionary goods have contracted.

«It’s important to consider the context of these results, comparing them to September 2022, a period marked by economic uncertainty due to the Government’s ‘mini budget.’ Performing poorly against such a weak base is a cause for concern among retailers.

«The unseasonably warm September weather, while welcome to some, highlights the undeniable impact of climate change on our seasons. In this challenging environment, retailers must embrace agility and adaptability. To thrive, they must ensure that their product offerings remain relevant and appealing to entice customers to make purchases.»

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