* German temperatures warmer than normal in January
* Winter coat prices slashed by 18 to 30 percent
* De-icer stockpiles hardly touched
By Maria Sheahan
FRANKFURT, Jan 6 European retailers,
already battling weak consumer demand, look set to find their
shelves laden with scarves, coats, toboggans and de-icers due to
an unseasonably mild winter.
Toboggans, a hot commodity during last year's snowy winter,
are shelf warmers this year, Germany's retailers' association
HDE said on Friday. It also said sales of winter clothes and ski
equipment were so far falling short of year-earlier levels.
"Retailers responded by offering discounts unusually early,"
a spokesman for HDE said. He said many retailers cut prices
before Christmas, which they usually do after the holidays.
Lots of stores on Frankfurt's busiest shopping street
offered discounts on winter coats and boots in the run-up to the
Christmas holidays to try to loosen shoppers' purse strings.
Multi-brand retailers such as Peek & Cloppenburg and
AppelrathCuepper had rows of winter coats on sale,
including Hugo Boss woollen coats and classic Burberry trenches
with prices cut by anywhere from 18 to 30 percent.
BLAME IT ON THE WEATHERMAN
Average temperatures in Germany in December were 3.8 degrees
centigrade, and the first few days of January were even warmer
at 6 degrees.
"That is 6 degrees more than is normal for January," a
spokesman for the German national weather service said.
And while there is still a lot of winter ahead, no cold
spell is expected in the next couple of weeks, he said.
Road salts maker K+S said its stockpiles had
hardly been touched so far this winter, compared with the past
two years, which saw unusually harsh weather.
In a normal winter, K+S sells about 2.6-2.7 million tonnes
of de-icing salt, but last year that figure jumped to more than
4 million tonnes and the company was forced to ship salt from
Chile to meet demand in snowy Europe.
Some retailers said the upside to the warm weather was that
consumers were more inclined to go out shopping when the air was
not frigid and the ground was ice-free.
"We have not suffered from the mild winter," said a
spokesman for fashion retailer C&A, which generates annual sales
of about 3 billion euros ($3.8 billion) in Germany.
German DIY stores operator Praktiker, which
published its trading statement on Thursday, said most Germans
had already stocked up on road salts before winter started,
having learned from last year when stores across the country
sold out of salts and snow shovels.
Frankfurt airport operator Fraport, which in
September invested 20 million euros in snow-clearing equipment
and training for staff, said it was still hopeful its new kit
would be put to the test this winter.
"The winter's not over yet," a spokesman said on Friday.
"There's sure to be some cold days to come."
Retailers traditionally rely heavily on Christmas and
January sales to boost profits, but the bleak economic climate
in Europe has made trading tough and many stores have had to cut
prices aggressively to attract shoppers.
In Britain, Simon Wolfson, head of Britain's No.2 fashion
chain Next, told Reuters on Wednesday the discounting at
rivals was greater than he had seen before.
Profit margins and the outlook for 2012 will be in focus
when a raft of other British retailers report Christmas sales
figures next week, including Tesco and Marks & Spencer
Metro, the world's No. 4 retailer, rattled the
sector by saying the euro zone crisis was affecting Christmas
trade, but statements from others so far have shown that German
shoppers were out in force over the holidays.
Metro said on Friday it was more diffcult to sell winter
wear at its Kaufhof department stores, but said discounts could
offset the impact. Its 2011 sales figures are due on Jan. 17.
Snow-free city centres in Germany may have put people off
buying skiwear for everyday use, but those with ski trips booked
can still make use of jackets and snow shoes.
After a slow start to the snowfall in the mountains, with
German media carrying photos of green grassy ski slopes,
Europe's ski resorts have since had some big dumps of snow.
"Winter bookings are good. There's snow on the mountains and
in any case, there's snow cannons too," a spokesman for tour
operator Thomas Cook Germany said.