Worry in France over drop in consumption

To say that things have been difficult for France’s clothing sector in 2013 is somewhat of an understatement. Unfavourable weather conditions and a drop in consumption is weighing heavy on many retailer’s morale, who are hoping for a change but preparing for the worst.

A look at the year’s figures is enough to see that this year will scar the sector. In the first half of 2013, monthly sales read as follows: -0.2%, -5.6%, -11,5 %, +5,3 %, -8,2 % and +2,9 %. An increase in sales in April contrasts the -17% drop in April 2012 and the slight increase in June is likely related to the start of the sales in France. Sales in July grew 2.6% following a warm and sunny month.

“Spring-summer was difficult for everyone,” says Alain Tritter, head of Holy Fashion Group’s French division, the company which operates the Strellson brand in France. “Of the 140 retailers we work with, if five of them are still in the black we are doing well.”

“In 2013 we saw organic growth of 10% but on a constant basis, sales have remained stable,” says Yann Jaslet of Bonobos. “However, we have seen very erratic sales trends, making it difficult to know how to adapt our in-store teams and stock levels.” Johan Munck, head of retail for Esprit France, also made the same observation. He noted that sales can jump or fall by 20% in one week with no apparent explanation.

Amongst those retailers that have faced the full force of it and those that have had to adapt, one question comes to mind: will they make it through 2014 if this persists? The end of year figures are highly anticipated by many, to say the least.

“Though September weather appears to be in line with the season, sales are still down so, ruling out the weather as a factor. There is a real problem here,” states Bernard Morvan, president of France’s national apparel associated. “Retailers are placing smaller orders more often, adapting their habits while they hope for the market to pick back up. This means that some suppliers are finding themselves with a lack of business,” he continued.
“The ideal scenario would be for activity to slowly pick up again,” says Daniel Wertel, president of the French federation for women’s ready-to-wear. “If the start of the winter brings bright, sunny days, sales are going to be impacted and we will current products in the sale bin at the end of the season.

Recently appointed head of the federation, Daniel Wertel links the drop in consumption to an increase in discounting, which now accounts for 45% of all clothing sales. “I can understand that there is a certain commercial appeal to it, but it is proving to be counter-productive. Aside from question fixing a new sale period (editor’s note: France has set periods during which retailers can offer discounts), it is a problem we really need to address.”

But the French seem to have an discovered an appetite for discounted prices with 44.6% of all women’s clothing purchases being reduced this year, compared to just 29% in 2007. The start of the financial crisis in 2008 led to an accelerated change in spending habits, pushing consumers to shop online in the search for the best price.

However, online sales have not come out unscathed. The FEVAD – a federation supporting e-commerce in Europe – reported a 7% drop in online spending in the apparel sector for the first three months of 2013, compared to an increase of 15% in the previous year.

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