Warm weather coupled with swelling inventories and low traffic are fueling markdown mania for a host of fashion apparel retailers, which are now offering up to 70 percent off.
Promotions were offered in-store and online prior to Nov. 1 and were reignited this week — pegged on Veterans Day, but with steeper markdowns than in prior years — to help clear inventory.
The move may be working. The Retail Economist-Goldman Sachs Weekly Chain Store Sales Index “rebounded” Tuesday with a 2 percent seasonally adjusted gain over the prior week. The bounce back, which will likely come at the expense of weaker gross margins in the coming quarters, follows lackluster same-store sales for October as most of the nation was swathed in warm weather that kept shoppers out of stores.
According to RetailNext, traffic was down significantly for most of the country in October, with some regions experiencing traffic declines of more than 15 percent year-over-year. In the firm’s monthly report, analysts said the “warmest weather in October since 1963 negatively affected store traffic in a month where retailers are stock-full of cold-weather goods.” What has retailers scrambling now with promotions is ongoing mild weather. Weather analytics firm Planalytics said it expects November to be warmer than prior years.
So far, the markdowns are steep. One day after Gap Inc. reported quarterly earnings, the company began a 50 percent off promotion in its outlet stores with an additional 20 percent off for “VIP” shoppers. On its Web sites, Gap Inc. offered 40 percent off Gap, Banana Republic, Old Navy and Athleta apparel with free, three-day shipping. Retail analyst Jan Kniffen of Kniffen Enterprises said, “Gap is the most promotional vendor out there right now.”
But others are close behind.
On macys.com, the retailer is offering 40 to 70 percent off “clearance” products, which included more than 3,500 items — nearly all apparel. The markdowns include private label and designer ready-to-wear such as an INC International Concepts sleeveless maxidress for $21.99, down from $89.50, and a Vince Camuto Popover lace-trim shift dress for $77.99 — down from $148.
Kohl’s Corp. was also pushing promotions Tuesday on its Web site with “select Black Friday” deals on certain products — especially apparel, footwear and accessories.
“With the kickoff of [the third-quarter] earnings season, apparel companies have expressed concerns regarding elevated inventory levels within the department store channel,” said Dana Telsey, chief executive officer at Telsey Advisory Group. “We view the weeks leading up to Black Friday and Christmas holidays as an important time frame to study the promotional cadence and depth of discounting, not only to drive traffic in-store and online, but to manage inventory levels throughout the fall selling period. Overall, promotions were broad-based across many categories, with home and cold weather products being the most abundant from retailer to retailer.”
Retailers deployed strategies that included heavy promotions prior to Nov. 1, and then a restart of markdowns this week. Telsey noted, for example, that Bon-Ton Stores Inc.’s “Friends and Family” event — which ended Nov. 4 — offered 50 percent off online orders and an extra 25 percent on selected items, which were mostly apparel. By today, the retailer’s “promotion cadence” was stepped up with a Veterans Day sale that included 60 percent off online purchases plus another 25 percent off certain apparel items.
At J.C. Penney Co. Inc., the approach was to clear inventory prior to Nov. 1 with 31 percent off online purchases greater than $100. By today, the markdowns in apparel switched to 30 percent to 40 percent off on outerwear and 40 to 50 percent off of select activewear. Other apparel segments on the retailer’s Web site included 30 percent to 40 percent off.
Stage Stores had a similar promotion on women’s apparel — 60 percent off for items ordered before Oct. 31. Today, the company was offering 30 percent to 40 percent off selected apparel in-store and online. IHS Global Insight director of consumer economics Chris Christopher said “many retail chain stores have already come out swinging with price discounting and promotions.”
Christopher said “retail price discounting seems to be creeping closer and closer to Halloween each year.” This year was no exception as evidenced by the broad-based promotional sales in the last week of October as well as this week’s hefty discounts.
There is also the overall decline in consumer prices to contend with, Christopher said, adding that “quarterly consumer prices for commodities other than food and energy have been in negative territory on a year-over-year basis since the second quarter of 2013.”
In the fourth quarter he expects consumer prices to be down 0.4 percent on a year-over-year basis, and following a 0.5 percent drop in the third-quarter. But companies can see some offsets from fuel costs. “A stronger dollar is assisting in lowering imported consumer goods prices, and the oil price plunge is assisting in reducing transportation costs for most retailers and wholesalers,” Christopher said.
He expects holiday sales to show a 3.5 percent gain over last year, rising to $630 billion along with stronger online spending. His forecast is below the National Retail Federation’s prediction of a 3.7 percent increase in holiday sales this year.