By Marcus Leach

The last two weeks may have given ice cream sellers an unexpected boost, but the unseasonal heat has hit the high street hard.

Total retail sales dropped by 4% on a like-for-like basis in September, which was the steepest fall in demand since February 2009. While homewares and non-fashion saw small like-for-like falls (-0.9% and -2.2% respectively), the biggest hit was felt by fashion stores which saw sales down 5.1%.

Fashion retailers who had expected autumn lines to shift as people prepared for colder weather were put on the back foot by temperatures that nudged towards 30 degrees.

Rather than stock up on cardigans and coats, consumers largely avoided the high street in favour of a final few days of sun. Don Williams, National Head of Retail and Wholesale at BDO LLP said the combination of unseasonal weather, economic gloom and lack of promotions had been something of a ‘perfect storm’ for the high street and fashion retailers in particular.

However, he also pointed out that like-for-like sales were being compared against a strong September in 2010.

“Last year consumer confidence was higher, promotions came earlier and the weather played ball,” explained Williams.

“While conditions on the high street are undoubtedly tough, consumers spending is unlikely to collapse completely between now and Christmas. We expect an element of “bounce back” now the temperature has dropped and the usual seasonal promotions are starting to appear.”

“We continue to see polarization on the high street between “winners and losers” as this environment is unforgiving for weaker businesses. However, as ever, those retailers that continue to offer the right products at the right price supported bygreat service will be able to persuade even the most cautious consumers to spend."

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