Magazine article Marketing

Consumers Leave Tories Guessing

Magazine article Marketing

Consumers Leave Tories Guessing

Article excerpt

Consumers leave Tories guessing

Stores are in a marketing quandry as sales figures fluctuate

Hard hit fashion retailers have been thrown into turmoil this week - by news of booming sales. High street outlets of store giant Sears have been experiencing double digit growth since mid-September, compared with the same period last year. And there is further evidence that competitors are seeing similar gains.

News like this is just what the troubled Tory party is looking for as it meets in its last conference before the General Election. Tory party chairman Chris Patten was busy trying to boost the party's wavering confidence this week with claims that the Government had halted what he called Britain's "seedy decline".

But, despite the surprise reports from fashion retailers, most high street stores are still not sure as to when they will be able to declare the recession over.

Nielsen figures show that while sales are up 7% in value over last year, the recent trend has been confused (see graph).

Paula Alexander, spokeswoman for Sears, whose chains include Fosters menswear, major shoe shop chains Freeman Hardy and Willis and Dolcis, Olympus sports shops, Selfridges and Adams childrenswear, says "the past three weeks have been excellent across the board."

Storehouse has "detected an increase in customers coming through the doors at Habitat following our ad campaign", while WH Smith group claims year on year sales for its retail division have been up in the last two weeks and Tesco attributes recent sales growth to new store openings.

The Retail Consortium, representing the majority of major chains, meanwhile reports increasing confidence in an upswing in consumer spending.

But no-one is banking on a bumper Christmas. The industry has had its fingers badly burnt through over-zealous optimism before. It sowed the seeds of its present troubles in the boomtime 80s, when it piled on new space and heavy debts. Now it is more cautious. The blip in fashion sales could be explained away by the sudden onset of cold weather. Also, retail sales fell away sharply in the last quarter of 1990, favouring current comparisons. …

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