Holiday shopping usually drags after Cyber Monday until mid-December. But this year, it hasn’t been all that bad.
On Monday, retailers reported less of a post-Cyber Monday lull than expected, bolstering expectations of meeting revenue gains of 3 to 4 percent or more for the holiday season.
Extended Cyber Monday deals, higher consumer confidence, lower unemployment, record stock market gains stoked by potential tax cuts and recent cold weather has kept retailers on track for the most part (despite Saturday’s snowfall across the South and Northeast) and comparing favorably to least year, which was unseasonably warm. It all helps to paint a good picture about business.
Historically, consumers take a breather from shopping after all the intense and extended marketing and price-promoting in days just before and following the Thanksgiving/Black Friday/Cyber Monday period. They get back in the stores and online in the final few weeks before Christmas to take advantage of steeper markdowns as the holiday nears — which is what they did this past weekend.
“We really didn’t see a lull,” said Mary Ellen Coyne, chief executive officer of J.McLaughlin. Except for a “slight dip” in sales the Tuesday after Cyber Monday, “week one and two of December were incredibly strong.” She cited double-digit comps on the web and “solid” single-digit comps in stores and attributed the lift in part to success with catalogues and gift guides.
J.McLaughlin maintains a full-price strategy. Only 12 percent of the business is promotional. “We broke our first fall sale event on Black Friday,” said Coyne, when 30 percent of the business was discounted.
Novelty outerwear pieces have been surprisingly strong sellers, observed Kevin McLaughlin, cofounder and chief creative officer of J.McLaughlin. “That’s not the classification I would normally turn to for holiday. For the most part, it’s self-purchasing to wear during the holiday season. We have a faux leopard coat that’s been extremely good. Down has been strong. Puffers have been strong. Accessories and sweaters have been strong.”
“We had a phenomenal Thanksgiving weekend, with sales breaking records in stores and online. The few days after, we witnessed some fatigue from the big weekend. But overall sales have been strong since, maintaining positive comps,” said Rob Trauber, ceo of Johnny Was, the Los Angeles-based upscale, bohemian chic company that operates 28 units. Trauber said sweaters, jackets and velvet have been key for holiday and he expects the remainder of December to be positive, on target, and seeing fewer markdowns.
“Business has been fair. The snow was not good on Saturday, but business on Sunday was brisk,” said one senior-level department store executive, who requested anonymity. “We are in reasonable shape. It was a little softer after the big holiday period and things picked up Sunday.”
“Business is steady. There was less of a lull than usual,” said one senior executive from a national retail chain, who also requested anonymity. “The weather is on everyone’s side. There’s a ton of exuberance about tax reform and most retailers are up against a horrible fourth quarter last year.
“You’ve got to look at the economy, too. Consumer confidence is at an all-time high and unemployment is way down. But let’s see how sustainable this is.”
Craig Johnson, president of Customer Growth Partners, said the lull was “shallower than usual. The worst of the lull was very early, during those last couple of days in November, and the first weekend of December was slow. It was tricky then, kind of soft.
“Things began picking up this past week and into the weekend. On Sunday, stores were packed,” following the snowstorm the day before. “We saw high traffic levels at Wal-Mart, where hundreds of people were at the checkouts.”
Among other busy stores, Johnson cited Costco, Home Depot, Lowe’s and Best Buy, as well as discounters and off-pricers. His company sends out 20 workers to monitor the traffic at stores in malls, outlets, power centers and strip centers.
Johnson and other sources listed best-selling categories and items as ath-leisure, cold weather apparel, cashmere, fragrances, jewelry, electronics, home goods, big-screen televisions, iPhone 8 plus and Apple Series 3 Watches. Less robust were women’s specialty chains selling misses’ sportswear and toys. Department store performances are viewed as mixed.
An arctic blast is expected later this week. “The cold weather will goose things up,” Johnson added. “Not only is everything on track, but our best bet is that we’ll actually exceed the 4.3 percent forecast,” for holiday retail sales growth. “The question is what’s going to be the biggest day of the year. We know it won’t be Black Friday. It’s usually the last Saturday before Christmas, but it may be December 16,” said Johnson. The last Saturday is just two days before Christmas and most people should have completed their holiday shopping by then, he added.
New stores, a few pop-ups, the Miracle on Madison charity day Dec. 2, and Barneys New York’s windows kept business up on Madison Avenue, according to Matthew Bauer, president of the Madison Avenue Business Improvement District. “December 2 was a really busy day on the avenue. The streets were quite full. Retailers have reported to me it was a busy day. It’s continuing. Eyeballing the avenue, it does appear better” than last year. Barneys windows, created by the Haas brothers, “are getting lots of attention,” he said.
Two British pop-ups, New & Lingwood and Knot Standard, and the new Stella McCartney, Balenciaga, Tom Ford and Lutwyche stores have helped draw traffic to Madison Avenue, as did Miracle on Madison, when 75 stores donated 20 percent of their day’s sales to The Society of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center’s pediatric initiatives, and the avenue was visited by therapy dogs and carolers.
However, one vendor said last week that business after Cyber Monday “tailed off more than people expected. It could be due to the extra Saturday we have before the holiday.”
Another consultant said, “There has always been a lull in business” in early December. “But this year it will be net positive. It’s starting to be cold for an [extended] time, at least for the next 10 days. People are going to be looking to cover themselves with more than just sport jackets.”
Wildfires have devastated much of Santa Barbara and Ventura counties in California, and are impacting business. Paseo Nuevo, an outdoor center in downtown Santa Barbara — with retailers such as Nordstrom, Gap, Express and Zumiez — closed four hours early at 6 p.m. Sunday as a result of air-quality conditions, although the center reopened Monday and said it was closely monitoring the fire.
Business elsewhere in the state marched on with the sentiment among some retailers based out of the West Coast generally positive with two weekends left before Christmas.
Mark Pan, U.S. country manager at Cotton On Group, which has more than 140 stores, said his business is less reliant on promotions and that business is in line with expectations since Cyber Monday, aided by the company’s launch of sleepwear, winter accessories and personalized gifts from its Typo brand.
“With Christmas falling on a Monday this year, we expect that the final 10 days will make up a much higher percent of the month than prior years,” Pan said.
On the pure-play side, Revolve said its sales are up 50 percent year-over-year and that trend is expected through the rest of the month, which would exceed the e-tailer’s targets, according to co-ceo and cofounder Mike Karanikolas.
Kendall + Kylie, the lifestyle brand of Kendall and Kylie Jenner, has seen momentum on its web store since Cyber Monday, with traffic up, though full-priced business is flat and sale items are “up significantly” from a year ago, said ceo Ellen Kinney. “It’s sale that’s driving the conversion. We are trying to be careful about getting too promotional.”
Moda Operandi has seen strong business in shoes in December with its Castañer and Manolo Blahnik collaboration, priced at $365 to $520; Stuart Weitzman’s Gigi Hadid tie-up, $495 to $595, and strappy Maureen mule styles by label Malone Souliers, $545. Bags performing well include the Loewe cross-body Barcelona style for $1,690, and Danse Lente’s mini Johnny bucket bag, $380.
Matchesfashion.com has seen strong sales of novelty and party shoes. Designs by Attico, Aquazzura, Paciotti by Midnight and Balenciaga are standout on the web site. Accessories buyer Cassie Smart noted, “Statement jewelry has been a highlight category for this month. Our customers love the oversize fringed earrings from Lizzie Fortunado [about $200] and Elise Tsikis,” at $170. In handbags, cross-body styles have fared particularly well, with call-out brands including Gucci, Marni and Mark Cross.
Startup e-tailer Lisa Says Gah, selling a midtier range of contemporary, feminine designs, has seen strong sales in colorful mesh totes by Walker, priced $41, as well as leather trim, rattan designs by St. Agni, priced at $229. The web site also cited ankle boot styles by Loq for $375, and by Maryam Nassir Zadeh for $580.
“I think things are going to be better than anyone thinks,” said Gilbert Harrison, chairman of Financo Inc. “There is a little bit of a lull, but we are even seeing an increase in apparel, which we haven’t seen in a while.”
“If you think Cyber Week mania might be over, it isn’t. The amount of folks that will buy from now on is huge,” said David Echegoyen, vice marketing at Jet.com. “We’ll have a ton of new deals.”
A recent Jet.com survey of 2,000 customers found that 15 to 16 percent will wait until after Dec. 15 to do their shopping, Echegoyen said. “We’ll have great deals on beauty, grooming and fragrances. We’re still pretty heavy into the season.
“We’re still negotiating the cutoff shipping date with our supply chain,” Echegoyen said. “It will be around Dec. 20. All of Wal-Mart U.S. e-commerce shares [the same] distribution and supply chain. We end of hammering those guys pretty hard.”
Echegoyen said Wal-Mart sees a flurry of activity after Dec. 20 or 21, [depending on the cutoff date,] because consumers know they can’t buy online and pick-up in stores anymore. “You have to go in to the stores and buy,” Echegoyen said. “During Cyber weekend and week, we sold everything from fashion, boots and watches, to Legos and electronics. It was truly an across-the-board picture…We had amazing deals that started on Nov. 19 and ran through Dec. 2. In addition to selling “a ton of Uggs,” as well as boots from Bear Paw, Hunter and Sorel, Jet.com featured watches by Michael Kors and a wide variety of giftable beauty products. “Legos was our largest-selling volume item,” Echegoyen said. “Lego’s become so good at being relevant. It’s themed with anything that’s hot today, like Lego ‘Star Wars,’ Lego ‘Batman.'”