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Will fashion disruptors Asos plc and plc leave Next plc for dead?

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One of the most profitable investments for investors can be spotting a building trend, a shift from the normal way we consumers go about our daily lives. By spotting these changing patterns and trends early, and perhaps more importantly, the companies that are responsible for bringing about the change, investors can get very rich indeed.

The share price doesn’t lie

A case in point is Asos (LSE: ASC), one of the three fashion retailers under review today. While some may argue that the smart money has already been made in this share, the point of this article is to assess whether there’s still more to go.

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Indeed, turning to the six-month chart below, we can see that it highlights a rather interesting pattern emerging with both online specialists Asos and (LSE: BOO) that are well ahead of the FTSE 100. Meanwhile sector peer Next (LSE: NXT) has seen its share price decline substantially as the company faced a perfect storm of increased online competition across the sector, one of the warmest winters on record and some issues in stock availability at key times.

The final nail in the downtrend coffin came when the preliminary results for January 2016 were announced last month with CEO Lord Wolfson commenting on the outlook. He said: “The year ahead may well be the toughest we have faced since 2008.  We are very clear on our priorities going forward and whatever challenges we may face, it is important that we remain focused on ensuring that the company’s product, marketing, services and cost controls all improve in the year ahead”.

Since those comments, the share price has slumped further and given that the Great British weather is currently being unpredictable to say the least, I’ll be looking forward to the first quarter’s trading statement next week with interest – as will the rest of the market.

Just the weather or something more disruptive?

The weather obviously hasn’t helped retailers like Next and this is supported to a degree when others in the sector are feeling the pain, such as Costa Coffee owner Whitbread. It recently highlighted weaker than expected LFL sales growth of 0.5% due to the warmer weather and reduced footfall on the high street.

And just this week we’ve seen high street retailers BHS and Austin Reed enter administration, placing over 11,000 jobs at risk.

Yet UK sales at both Asos and have continued to grow, up by 25% and 38%, respectively.

It strikes me, therefore that despite the impact of the weather, sales have continued to grow at a pretty healthy clip at the online-only retailers. This leaves me wondering whether it was simply a bad year for Next and similar businesses like Debenhams that reported similar single-digit sales growth recently, or a fundamental change in the way that we consumers are choosing to transact.

As things stand, it’s still unclear to me whether there’s a seismic shift underway or whether Next has simply suffered a hiccup, not helped by the unseasonal weather. Next is a past master at bouncing back from downturns. However, this possible shift is definitely a theme that I’ll be keeping a close eye on going forward.

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Dave Sullivan has no position in any shares mentioned. The Motley Fool UK owns shares of and has recommended ASOS. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.

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