Whilst half of the UK has been battening down the hatches for the last 2 months the highstreet has been facing problems of its own. There are strong arguments that increasing city sprawl and urban developments are creating the flooding that many now face on an annual basis.
Has the retail sector created its own perfect storm through extensive outsourcing of production, resulting in increasingly long, complex supply chains and considerable lead times?
One of the iconic images during last year’s floods was the house owner in Somerset who built levees around his house, and in doing so kept the flood waters at bay. The same was not possible at places like Boscastle where entire communities were destroyed. The individual with the creative mind and resources to react to the rising waters was able to do so yet towns and villages with massive resources are unable to save themselves.
Looking at the big names in retail who are reporting disappointing results this winter it is the same old big players who are established in the market. Their buyers will have confirmed the winter stock back in the summer with containers taking 6-8 weeks to get to the UK, during that time the Met Office warned of a warm wet winter yet the high street was powerless to react.
The winners this year have not been announced yet but I will be betting on them being the flexible and innovate retailers who are able to adapt quickly to trends and conditions, along with those that source more locally and don’t have the same extensive lead times. This is typically eCommerce businesses and the smaller retailers who can hold stock in warehouses and quickly change the online offering rather than committing to window displays and outlet themes.
So how do the big players avoid falling into the same trap year on year?
They can’t be as flexible as the fast fashion retailers but given we live in the UK unexpected weather should be expected. More flexible inventory management on a local level will allow individual stores to drive their own sales. Merchandisers should have plans in place to upsell core target items that won’t be impacted by the weather – Christmas jumpers at H&M for example. Take advantage of NDCs and offer a wider product mix; using click and collect as a buffer for localised stock shortages.