Pumpkin spice lattes and #sweaterweather would normally mark the beginning of fall. October 31st would roll around and temperatures would drop. Frost would begin to form on the car doors and our senses would demand mint cocoa, scarves, and cocoon coats. As humans we lead with our sense to see, to feel and to experience.
This year something changed… When fall came around we were still holding onto summer, bare ankles and all. With above average temperatures in September, October and November #sweaterweather was delayed. Actually sweater sales in Canada were down -14 percent compared a year ago*. Sweaters are not the only category impacted by the weather; we’ve seen this trend across all seasonal categories. Take winter outerwear for example, posting declines compared to a year ago for the first time in over 7 years. So with Mother Nature, an unpredictable force, having the largest impact on seasonal sales, how do we plan for the future?
Ever notice that as soon as that first day the temperature drops below zero we are all running out to buy turtleneck sweaters and fur trimmed parkas. This is the effect of we consumers switching from proactive purchase planning to reactive buy-now-wear-now. Consumers are no longer purchasing seasonal merchandise in anticipation of the weather change, they are purchasing based on when they need it.
An interesting fact is that in 2016 sweaters and winter outerwear had above index sales growth in January and February, respectively. These are also the two most promotional months for seasonal merchandise, as retailers try to clear the winter merchandise that has been sitting on the floor for the past three months. Winter 2016 was also one of the warmest winters in history, so consumers could hold off on buying winter apparel and just waited to take advantage of the end-of-the-season deals. Seventy percent** of all seasonal merchandise purchased during these months were purchased on sale.
So if consumers are only purchasing seasonal merchandise at the height of the season when they need it, why do we continue to deliver merchandise that will sit on the retail floor for months and be perceived as old merchandise by the time the “real” buying season hits? In addition the season-end sales conditions consumers to expect and wait for the discounts.
It’s time to rethink the traditional merchandising calendar and adjust it to meet consumer needs. After all , from the consumer’s point-of-view, #sweaterweather starts in November and stays with us until March.