It doesn’t look like retailers hit the promotional panic button on Columbus Day sales, according to a new report from Brian Tunick at RBC Capital Markets.
Columbus Day is a high-volume weekend and is estimated to contribute 28 percent of retail’s third-quarter sales overall. This year is especially meaningful due to last year’s warm winter that left many retailers struggling to unload winter apparel. Adding to that, 2016 got off to a slow start with overall flat comps for the first half of the year.
Positive remarks about back-to-school business from retailers encouraged investors, but then a spotty September seemed to burst that bubble. Tunick pointed out that with national temperatures trending above average last month, retailers had a hard time convincing customers to buy sweaters. So, Columbus Day’s importance has taken on added urgency this year.
Tunick compared 2015’s sales to 2016 and found that while there was a mixed bag for the level of promotions, inventories were generally under control. The five retailers that appeared better year-over-year were Anthropologie, Macy’s and the Gap Inc. family of stores.
“We are encouraged by the progress at Gap Stores Inc., with all three brands less promotional over Columbus day weekend,” said Tunick. He added, “With Old Navy margin momentum building steam and lean inventories in light of the Fishkill distribution center fire, third-quarter merchandise margins are likely running ahead of second quarter, albeit at some expense of traffic.”
Macy’s did not run a coat sale this year versus last year’s 30- to 50-percent-off select styles. Anthropologie was running 40 percent off sale merchandise versus last year’s 20 percent off all full-price dresses.
The five retailers that were roughly inline as compared to last year included Abercrombie & Fitch, American Eagle Outfitters, Chico’s, Kohl’s and Urban Outfitters. American Eagle Outfitters is one of Tunick’s top ideas for for the second half of the year. He said, “We still sees potential for positive estimate revisions in the second half given the push toward higher tickets, allowing greater promotional flexibility during peak traffic periods.”
Even though Tunick listed Abercrombie & Fitch as being inline, he called them out for being one of the few retailers with 40 percent off at the store and deeper promotions at the Hollister brand. Chico’s had fewer incremental store-only promotions year-over-year and Kohl’s was roughly the same as last year. He noted that Urban Outfitters had controlled clearance levels and that a majority of the store was selling at full-price.
Nine retailers appeared to have deeper discounts this year over last year. They included the Ascena retail group Inc.’s brands of Ann Taylor, Justice and Loft. Bloomingdale’s, Express, Hollister, White House|Black Market and L Brands’ Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works were also on the deep discount list.
“While the customer’s quest for value remains a constant, the controlled inventories at least suggest that the environment could remain rational into the holiday season,” said Tunick. He said Lululemon, Burlington, Coach and Urban Outfitters were the leanest on inventory, while Ulta Salon Cosmetics and Fragrance Inc., Michael Kors Holdings Lyd. and Chico’s were the heaviest.
Since weather seems to be calling all the shots with apparel buyers, Tunick looked ahead to see what was in store for the retailers. According to Planalytics, he said, “Weather is expected to remain a mixed bag, with cooler than average temperatures in October week 2, but warmer than average temperatures in October week 3.” Stock prices are heating up with as valuations on retail stocks have risen 2 to 3 percent on average since the second-quarter earnings season.