Challenging year-ago numbers and a lackluster consumer spending environment took a toll on retailers reporting July comparable-store sales, but one retailer, Stein Mart Inc., said sales of women’s apparel performed well.
Stein Mart said markdowns and other factors impacted July comps, which showed a gain of 0.2 percent. The retailer said July sales “comparisons were unfavorably impacted by the shift of sales-tax holidays from July to August in eight states for 102 stores.”
“Geographically, the Midwest and Southwest had the strongest sales, while the Northeast, Southeast (sales-tax holiday shift) and California performed below the chain,” the company said. “For the second quarter, ladies’ apparel had the strongest sales, led by dresses and ladies’ boutique, while accessories performed lower than the chain.”
Specialty apparel retailer The Buckle Inc., which operates more than 450 stores in 44 states, said same-store sales declined 8.1 percent. And Zumiez Inc. said comps fell 7.6 percent, and for the second quarter, same-store sales shed 4.5 percent.
Rick Brooks, chief executive officer of Zumiez Inc., said, “while our second-quarter comparable-sales decrease of 4.5 percent was within our guidance range, we did experience greater-than-anticipated pressure as we moved through the month from both a sales perspective with the shift in Labor Day and related sales-tax holidays as well as on product margin from higher promotional activity to clear seasonal inventory.”
L brands Inc. fared better, with total comps rising 3 percent, which compares to a 6 percent gain in the same month last year. By brand, Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works both posted a 3 percent same-store sales gain for the month while direct sales were flat, which compares to a 3 percent decline last year.
Value-priced apparel retailer Cato Corp. said its July comps declined 1 percent. Still, John Cato, chairman, president, and ceo, said the retailer expects “second-quarter earnings per diluted share to be near the high end of our original range of [54 cents to 57 cents] versus [56 cents] last year, a decrease of 4 percent to an increase of 2 percent.”
Thomson Reuters reported a median 0.3 percent same-store sales decline for the apparel segment. Gap Inc. will release its comps on Monday.
Regarding the broader retail market, Costco Wholesale Corp. reported flat comps, while Conn’s posted a 4 percent gain, which was driven by appliance, furniture and mattress sales and reflects earlier reports from the U.S. Commerce Department that consumers had shifted spending toward bigger-ticket items.
Michael P. Niemira, principal and chief economist at The Retail Economist LLC, said in his research note that July’s temperatures were warmer than last year, and that “weather was helpful as an incentive to buy summer clearance merchandise, but not a strong catalyst for back-to-school merchandise demand.”
“Overall, the [retail] industry’s July sales trend continued weak at the top line, but core demand — sales excluding the impact of gasoline prices and forex fluctuations — remained relatively healthy,” Niemira said.
In its analysis of sales, traffic, conversion rates and average transaction values, RetailNext said total sales per shopper were up 4.7 percent for the month compared to July 2014, which indicates that “shopper commitment has increased, which is consistent” with what the firm has seen in recent months.
“However, for the first time this year, average transaction value dropped by 0.2 percent,” the researchers said.
By region, the Northeast had the most sluggish traffic patterns with a 13.9 percent year-over-year decline. In the South, traffic was down 9.8 percent and it declined 9.6 percent in the West. The Midwest had a 7.3 percent drop in traffic.
Conversions, which is sales transactions as a percentage of total transactions, increased across all regions.
For August, Niemira expects “sales growth will remain relatively steady with the recent fiscal year-to-date performance as negative year-over-year impacts linger for gasoline price and foreign exchange comparisons, but modestly helped by the later state sales tax holidays that will help some retailers.”
Niemira is forecasting August retail comps to be between flat and up 1 percent, which compares to a year-ago gain of 4.8 percent. For apparel retailers, the challenge will be to clear out seasonal merchandise as well as back-to-school looks without suffering steep markdowns and gross margin erosion.