PARIS — As the immediate business damage from the coronavirus comes into clearer focus, with Hennes & Mauritz AB group’s Monday report showing sales are improving after falling 50 percent last quarter, broader signals about future consumption show an uneven recovery might be shaping up.
With stores reopened in most markets, fast fashion players have largely moved past the worst of the disruption.
Inditex, which owns labels including Zara, Stradivarius and Massimo Dutti, last week said it expects sales to improve after falling 44 percent in the quarter ending April 30, when most of its stores were closed.
With economic troubles expected to continue well after the stores reopen, however, how interested will consumers be in renewing their wardrobes with fresh styles and easily accessible fashion?
A report from RBC Europe suggests that second handclothing could emerge as a threat to fast fashion.
RBC analysts surveyed consumers in the U.K., Germany and Spain, and found that a majority of respondents had bought at least a fifth of their clothing second hand in the last year. Noting a shift away from fast fashion, RBC said over 60 percent of respondents indicated they were likely or very likely to purchase fewer, higher-quality items, rather than a large amount of inexpensive clothing.
“With price and quality remaining two of the most important factors that consumers consider when buying clothing, we see potential for people to move towards the higher quality but lower prices that secondhand clothing can offer,” said RBC. This could have a negative effect on chains like Zara, H&M and Primark.
Zara-owner Inditex, however, could take market share as “newness” could be favored by consumers in a downturn, according to RBC analysts. They also said they prefer investing in Inditex over H&M, citing the Spanish retailer’s inventory situation, more flexible business model and stronger balance sheet.
Inditex is betting on digital prowess to navigate the current, choppy environment and last week announced plans to invest nearly 3 billion euros in beefing up its digital platforms and integrating store and online stock over the next couple of years.
At the same time, it is sticking to its strategy of culling smaller stores to focus on larger, spruced up flagships — COVID-19 disruptions have not called for a revision of this approach, executives said.
Inditex noted “normal” consumer behavior in reopened stores, and said sales had recently returned to prior-year levels in China, Japan and South Korea.
H&M group, which also owns Cos, Monki, Weekday and & Other stories, as well as Afound — a n online discount retailer that sells marked down merchandise including secondhand items — noted sales performance in reopened markets has varied greatly.
The lockdown period boosted online business at both Inditex and H&M, with the Spanish retailer noting e-commerce sales were up 50 percent over its last quarter, which started in February. Inditex expects the online channel to account for over a quarter of total sales in 2022, compared to 14 percent last year.
H&M said Monday that online sales rose 32 percent in local currencies, showing further proof that consumers deepened their embrace of online purchasing while physical stores were closed.
The Swedish fast fashion retailer reported sales for the three months ending May 31 totaled 28.66 billion Swedish kronor, or $3.05 billion, a period which the company has said would be the most hit by the COVID-19 crisis. Sales this month so far, through June 13, were down 30 percent in local currencies, showing improvement.
H&M has been gradually reopening stores since the end of April in a number of markets.
Around 900 H&M stores remain closed, around 18 percent of the group total. Online sales are open in nearly all of its e-commerce markets — 48 out of 51.
Second quarter sales were better than expected, thanks to the online performance as well as the reopened stores, said Richard Chamberlain of RBC Europe, in an emailed research note.
“However, we remain relatively cautious on the margin and inventory outlook, and expect only a gradual pace of recovery from here,” added Chamberlain. The analyst expects further markdowns next quarter, as it is traditionally a heavier clearance quarter.
The sales figure was in line with expectations, noted analysts from Berenberg, who said they will be looking out for details on profitability, as gross margins may have been diluted from markdowns.
H&M will provide further details on first-half results on June 26.