The Retail Economist-Goldman Sachs Weekly Chain Store Sales Index increased 3.1 percent for the week ended Saturday. On a year-over-year basis, sales showed a 1 percent gain. “Consumers are slightly behind their shopping for holiday gifts than in recent years and typically younger consumers have a lower holiday-gift purchase completion rate than older consumers,” Niemira said, adding that the “bitter cold that blanketed the U.S. over the past week hurt consumers’ ability to shop, which means more is riding on the current week as holiday shopping wraps up.”
From Wall Street’s perspective, the holiday shopping season is doing little to boost the specialty apparel retail segment — even as the stock market is set to have a record year. Investors have been tough on this subset of the retail sector. Eric Beder, analyst at Wunderlich Securities, noted this morning that as 2016 comes to a close the S&P Select Retailing Index is up 6.5 percent year to date, which compares to a 10.7 percent gain in the S&P 500 and a 9.6 percent increase in the S&P 500 Retailing Index.
“We look for 2017 to be another period of less for the specialty retailing/apparel group: less stores, less inventory, less traffic and, maybe, less taxes and less discounting, with investors looking for a payoff from productivity and the stronger players taking market share from the weak,” Beder said.
While not exactly bearish, Beder’s assessment of the retail apparel segment and its outlook for next year is not exactly bullish either. “The apparel/specialty retailing sector continues to slog away in the midst of a multiyear switch from a brick-and-mortar model to an omnichannel experience, as the group closes stores, malls shut down, and retailers focus on minimizing inventory exposure,” he said. “Unfortunately, the customer response has been less willingness to pay full price and less need to go to the remaining stores.”
Beder said the segment’s inability to “drive solid returns online — due to unprepared infrastructure, free shipping and returns — even as more traffic and purchasing shifts online” is hampering growth, which is also being hamstrung by a business model for apparel retailers that is “fracturing.” He said companies are struggling to catch up to Amazon, which requires better managed and leaner inventories.
It’s also forcing chains to shutter doors and rethink real estate. “Just shrinking is not a long-term business model or, frankly, a sustainable plan, in our opinion,” Beder said.