June 16, 2024


We Do Shopping Right

Supermarket clothing floors are set to stay open in lockdown

The laws around all this are somewhat murky. Supermarkets are allowed to sell clothing, books, toys and make-up and accept returns on them, so long as more than 50 percent of the store is given over to essential retail. Every floor also has to sell some essential retail – M&S Oxford Street, for example, has had to close its upper floors but can claim the fashion-only ground floor is an entrance to the food hall. This does open up possible loopholes – could fashion brands reopen if half their premises were dedicated to food? Could stores like Whole Foods start selling in-house clothing concessions?

Interestingly, when Wales announced its firebreak lockdown in October, supermarkets were initially allowed to keep fashion aisles open but after it led to an outcry from local clothing brands, the rules were reversed. But no such backlash has occurred in England. 

“I think that overall, supermarket fashion specialises in basics and most clothing brands don’t consider them direct competitors,” says Balchandani. “What brands are really damaged by is a lack of tourist traffic, which is something else that doesn’t affect supermarkets.”

It is true that few people travel to London to shop for clothes at Sainsbury’s, but as the queues outside Primark each time lockdown has lifted prove, there is a huge appetite in the UK for discount fashion.

Primark has no online channel so is unable to sell clothes until the end of lockdown, meaning supermarkets will take on those sales. As more people in the 60-plus category are vaccinated (also the category least likely to shop online) supermarkets could see a bump in sales from them. An early spring in lockdown, meanwhile, would also have a positive impact.    

Ultimately, supermarkets clothing lines are unlikely to see much growth in this grimmest of winters. But unlike almost every other fashion brand in the UK, they aren’t going to see sales fall in a significant way, and that means something at a time like this. 

I just hope that it leads to supermarkets, M&S aside, improving their collections.  Instead of garish colours, synthetic fabrics and far too many slogans, how about some white cotton T-shirts, well-made sports bras and simple navy pyjamas?