H&M sales in South Africa were among the strongest in the world in 2020

Business Insider SA
A view of a sign for a H&M clothing retail shop in
  • In rand, H&M net sales in South Africa fell by 6% over the year to end-November.
  • Local sales held up well compared to other countries, where much larger declines were seen. 
  • In the three months to end-November, SA was one of the only countries that reported growing sales.
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Despite one of the most stringent lockdowns in the world, sales at the South African outlets of the massive Swedish clothing retailer H&M held up surprisingly well.

On Friday, H&M released its results for the year to end-November, which were hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic. Various countries imposed lockdown measures, which saw 80% of its stores closed at one point during the past year.

In local currencies, net sales from across the world fell by 18%.

Net H&M sales in South Africa (in rand) fell 6%, compared to the previous year – which is among the strongest performances in the countries where H&M does business.

In their local currencies, sales at H&M stores in the US (-30%) , UK (-23%), Germany (-12%) Netherlands (-16%) Japan (-14%), Australia (-17%) and India (-17%) declined by much larger margins.

In the quarter to end-November, H&M South Africa was one of only a few countries that reported positive sales growth compared to the same three months in 2019. In rand, net sales were up 4% - compared to large falls in the UK (-16%), France (-28%) and US (-17%).

Source: H&M

Translated in Swedish krona, which strengthened against the rand in 2020, SA sales declined by 17% to 744 million Swedish krone (R1.3 billion) in the year to end-November.

But even in krona, the 17% fall was smaller than in many other countries, including in the US (-31%), UK (-23%) and China (-19%).

SA's clothing sales ban

South Africa’s clothing retailers were not allowed to sell clothing for weeks as part of the initial lockdown, which started on 27 March. In May, some clothing sales - baby clothes and some winter items - were allowed. Restrictions on clothing sales were only lifted in full at the start of June.

While it's difficult to compare to other local retailers, due to different reporting periods and product mixes, H&M appears to have done well.

For the year to end-June, Truworths sales in South Africa fell almost 9% (to R12.3 billion), while Woolworths fashion beauty and home sales were almost 11% lower in the same period. For the six months to end-September, Mr Price saw its sales decline 14% to R9.2 billion.

Since launching in South Africa in 2015, H&M has built a chain of 27 stores. In terms of sales, South Africa is getting closer to turnover seen in countries like Portugal and Malaysia (both almost R1.6 billion over the past year).

But the group has seen its share of local controversy, and in 2018 was forced to temporarily close its stores in South Africa  after protests against the promotional image of a black child wearing a sweatshirt with the words "coolest monkey in the jungle". The scandal drew public accusations of racism and one store was ransacked.

Compiled by Helena Wasserman

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