Poor summer leaves Northern Ireland traders feeling under the weather
High street stores in Northern Ireland have suffered their worst summer for years, retail experts have said.
The unseasonal weather and lingering low consumer confidence is being blamed - although a late-summer recovery could be under way, with some traders reporting improved business over the past few weeks.
Fashion has been the hardest hit across the whole of the UK this summer, with sales at high street stores down by 1.4% according to BDO.
The accountants surveyed 85 mid-sized retailers, including French Connection, Oasis and Hobbs.
Locally, traders have been finding their summer stock hard to shift, even at knockdown prices.
Our dire summer comes on top of an unremarkable start to 2015 with spring being much cooler this year than last, and an unseasonably warm autumn in 2014.
Ulster University retail expert Donald McFetridge said the high street is currently dripping with mid-summer bargains as clothing retailers attempt to offload their summer stock to make way for the autumn/winter collections.
"This has been one of the worst summers on record for the fashion sector, with the weather being held largely to blame," he said.
"But inclement weather doesn't fully explain why the shelves of many leading fashion retailers are still bursting with clothes.
"Drastic weather calls for drastic measures from desperate retailers and it's absolutely imperative that they sell off the summer stock at knockdown prices if they are to be able to fund their autumn/winter collections.
"This is all good news for consumers who still have great choice at great prices, but it's not something that the retailers are going to want to shout from the rooftops."
When the Belfast Telegraph hit the high street at lunchtime yesterday shoppers were thronging many of the big name stores in search of bargains. At Marks & Spencer there were plenty of customers taking up offers of up to 50% off summer clothes and other seasonal accessories.
Deals of up to 70% off were up for grabs at Debenhams in CastleCourt, where street-facing red signs on windows were advertising its 'Final Summer Clearance'.
White Stuff at Cornmarket in Belfast city centre was boasting that additional lines had been added to its 'End of Summer Sale', while nearby BHS was promising discounts of up to 50% on summer clothing and other items.
Other retailers such as Jigsaw have already dispensed with their summer sales and are instead focusing on their autumn and winter range.
Indeed, the bulk of bargains have already been snapped up at most of the stores in Victoria Square, with only pockets of offers left for customers looking for cut-price goods.
Manager Michelle Greeves said that in House of Fraser all of the sales were "pretty much over".
"Retailers had a very strong July sales-wise and it was actually the best month of the year so far," she said.
"Most of the brands will have parts of sales left but most products have sold out, with only pockets of sales stock still available in most shops."
Paul McMahon, who manages Belfast's CastleCourt shopping centre, said the bad weather was having a positive impact.
"The unseasonal weather is limiting what people can do outdoors and many of them are going shopping," he said.
"When you talk to retailers you get a mixed reaction, depending on what they're selling.
"For instance, seasonal promotions are going down especially well with consumers and last month was very positive right across the board."
Mr McMahon also said he hadn't witnessed any anomalies in terms of retailer behaviour.
"I'm not seeing anything that's unusual. Individual retailers are following their normal schedules for this time of year," he added.