UK Retail: The Return of Make-Do-And-Mend?

Last Updated Apr 2, 2009 11:18 AM EDT

The latest Marks & Spencer results indicate the possibiity an unfriendly trend for UK retailers. It's not that the results for the 13 weeks to 28 March 2009 showed a fall in like-for-like sales of 4.2 per cent and a fall in overall sales of 0.3 per cent, it's more that they raise the question of whether this is a short-term dip or a long-term change in consumer shopping habits.

M&S overall food sales for the period actually increased by 0.4 per cent, driven by products aimed at the dine-in market, a relatively new consumer sector that is cutting down on dining out and concentrating on cooking their own meals as a way of reacting to the economic downturn.

It's clothing brands fared less well, according to a statement from Chairman and CEO Sir Stuart Rose, the retailer grew market share of UK clothing sales even though sales for the period were down1 per cent. He cited the 40+ Portfolio range as one of the store's winners.

Reports say the retailer is doing less well with younger women, a consumer segment it has always struggled to find a rapport with. The question here is, will the shift seen in food transpose to apparel?

Two generations ago, making clothes at home was not an uncommon practice to complement the store-bought items in a young person's wardrobe. Now it is practically unheard of and seamstressing is practically as lost an art as thatching and coopering. As the pennies in the consumer purse diminish over the next 24 months, as it is widely expected to, will shoppers - primarily women, fall back on those nearly-forgotten skills, just as they have been coaxed back into the kitchen with cook-for-yourself deals at the supermarkets?

Already the concept of charity shop chic has become an accepted term in the fashion lexicon.

It's unlikely we are going to see a rash of haberdashers opening up and a run on dress patterns, but alterations on second-hand and classic clothes, and home-made accessories aren't beyond the bounds of imagination, if high street fashion takes a turn in that direction. It doesn't take a huge amount of shoppers to start doing these things for it to have an impact on retailers like M&S's sales.