Mild winter weakens demand for merchandise, forces brands to offer more sops


January 6, 2016

Shambhavi Anand & Varun Jain, The Economic Times

New Delhi, 6 January 2016

Discount sale on winterwear has started in the middle of the season, as an unusually warm winter has hurt demand, forcing top brands to tweak their strategies. Industry experts estimate India’s annual winter wear market at around $2.3 billion (Rs 15,300 crore). This year, sales are around 15% below the expected level because of a mild winter in the North, said two of them.

Brands such as Woodland and Marks & Spencer, which are high on winter wear, started selling winter wear in October, a month earlier than usual, expecting people to buy in anticipation of a harsh winter. While several of them are now replacing heavy woolens with light ones, brands such as Levi Strauss and Woodland started offering discounts on winter apparel, footwear and accessories as early as December 23.

"Due to the balmy winters this year, we at Woodland have tweaked our inventory at the stores accordingly. Since we see slow demand for bulky winter merchandise, we have stocked our stores with sweatshirts, fleeces, bomber and gilet jackets instead, which have been flying off the shelves. We also have a range of ankle boots, which have been the rage all winter and have replaced thigh high boots this season," said Managing Director Harkirat Singh.

Marks & Spencer is focussing on light knits, cable knits and cashmere jumpers this season.

"This winter, layering was a key trend. As every part of India does not face winter with same intensity, having a range of styles in linen refreshed in latest colours of the season really helps, so we continue to offer linen all year round," said Venu Nair, managing director of Marks & Spencer Reliance India. He refused to comment on current trading and trading over the last quarter citing the silent period before reporting its group results on January 7.

Pepe India, which is primarily a denim brand but also sells winter apparel extensively, launched its winter collection ahead of Diwali. "Normally we used to launch winter collection after Diwali, but this year we went ahead with it by October 15. We also reengineered our product line and brought more of sweat shirts and lighter denim jackets which are useful for a longer part of the season," said CEO Kavindra Mishra.

Most parts of northern India, which is a huge market for winter wear for apparel brands, has experienced warmer winter this year. According to the India Meteorological Department, minimum temperature as on Tuesday was 5-7 degrees above normal in places such as Delhi, Chandigarh, Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh.

"Winter wear is an extremely seasonal product and it is limited to a small part of the geography of India," said Devangshu Dutta, CEO at consultancy Third Eyesight. "From that point of view, the sales of winter wear would have got impacted." However, he said, it is too early until late January to term the season a write-off.

"We have seen that the weather patterns are fairly unpredictable; so you can actually get a cold snap in the middle of January and that time it pushes up sales."

(Published in The Economic Times.)