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Why are so many shops on sale again?

'Sale: extra 20% off', 'FLASH SALE: 20% off everything', 'Remember: Up to 50% off our mid-season sale!'. These are just a few of the subject lines in e-mails I've received in the past week or so from all kinds of brands, from high street to niche online retailers.  October is traditionally all about the excitement of the new season in fashion, a time when we are seduced into investing in autumn's fresh arrivals before they sell out and are willing to pay full price for the pieces we want the most. 

Just a few years ago, we would never have expected to see a SALE sign until perhaps November's Black Friday - then, the discounting began again on Boxing Day when the queues snaked down high streets and through shopping malls from the middle of the night as the crowds anticipated the discounts everywhere from Next to Harrods. Those sales days were legendary.  Now, it feels almost laughable to get so excited about the prospect of a sale when they seem to come along every few weeks. 

As I write, ASOS is trailing a sale of up to 70 per cent off, Cos has a code to get an extra 20 per cent off its sale, Topshop is offering discounts of up to 70 per cent, Anthropologie has made 50 per cent reductions and John Lewis has 50 per cent off womenswear. All this when it feels like the end of summer sales have just stopped and we're only now acquainting ourselves with the autumn trends.  There are two ways to look at all this discounting.

Perhaps it's good news for us shoppers - it means we are always able to get a bargain and can justify indulging in constant retail therapy.  But it's also no secret that the clothing industry is in crisis. Covid-19 has changed the way we live, dress and shop this year, exacerbating difficulties which had been brewing for years as behaviour changed and it became increasingly difficult for stores to produce the right volumes of stock at the right prices. 

According to the Office for National Statistics, clothing sales in August this year were still 15.9 per cent below pre-pandemic levels and GlobalData predicts that there will be a 26.1 per cent decrease in spending on fashion this year overall.  "Clothing and Footwear retailers are amongst some of the hardest hit by the pandemic and continue to face a slow demand and low footfall with local lockdowns and economic uncertainty keeping shoppers at bay," says Dr Liliana Danila, economist at the British Retail Consortium. "Working from home and fewer opportunities to 'dress to impress' means that many retailers are turning to heavy discounting in order to encourage consumer spending." These sales are all well and good, but when more discounts are always round the corner, it can put us off buying anything full price if we think we can just wait for the sale.

And does that new-in floral midi dress carry quite the same appeal when it's got a big red 70 per cent off tag? The BRC's own data has found that prices have been gradually falling for years as shops try to tempt us into buying. Since lockdown though, those decreases have only accelerated and now prices have plummeted by 14.2 per cent year-on-year. 

This year's constant sales are understandable. Stores could never have planned for a pandemic, and although many did cancel or update orders, there was always going to be a glut of products we didn't need. But it has only thrown into sharper focus how out of sync so much of what is created is with our lives. 

'We encourage our brands, designers and retailers, who are used to fashion's fast, unforgiving pace, to slow down,' urged the British Fashion Council and Council of Fashion Designers of America in a joint statement issued in May. 'For a long time, there have been too many deliveries and too much merchandise generated. With existing inventory stacking up, designers and retailers must also look at the collections cycle and be very strategic about their products and how and when they intend to sell them. 'There is a clear disconnect from when things arrive in-store to when the customer actually needs them.

The delivery cadence should shift closer to the season for which it is intended.' The result of these disconnects is that we don't have the right kinds of clothes to buy when we want them so those clothes end up being discounted. And ultimately, if they're not sold they could end up being sent to landfill, only adding to fashion's already woeful environmental footprint.   'Data indicates that fashion lovers have started getting savvier at sale shopping over the past few years,' says fashion data platform Lyst.

It says that its users create wish lists and use these to, 'to track deals over time. This has now become a year-round behaviour, occurring not only around traditional sale months but instead, customers are benefiting from smart shopping apps that allow them to follow and track thousands of brands and millions of items at the same time in one place.' The prospect of unending sales and promotions may have made all of us into savvier shoppers, able to add new pieces to our wardrobes at prices which seem like an excellent bargain.

But is it really a way if shopping that's sustainable for ever?  Looking at that deluge of sales alerts gives me a pang of nostalgia for the days when sales were truly exciting - even if that meant waiting until Boxing Day for them to arrive. 

The sales buys to try now:

Jumper, was GBP110, now GBP55, Hobbs at John Lewis (johnlewis.com) 

Floral top, was GBP80, now GBP40, Anthropologie (anthropoligie.com)

Checked dress, was GBP125, now GBP62.50, COS (cosstores.com)

Suede boots, was GBP59.99 now GBP35.99, Mango (shop.mango.com)

Gingham skirt, was GBP35 now GBP7, Topshop (Topshop.com)   For more news, analysis and advice from The Telegraph's fashion desk, click here to sign up to get our weekly newsletter, straight to your inbox every Friday.

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