The majority of US apparel retailers saw sales fall in November

The majority of US apparel retailers saw sales fall in November

As US apparel retailers readied themselves for a busy Black Friday weekend, sales proved to be somewhat disappointing. Despite a more favourable macro backdrop to consumer spending this holiday season, the majority of clothing chains reported comparable store sales declines. 

According to first figures from research firm Retail Metrics, comparable store sales for the US retail sector were flat, beating its expectations for a 1.1% decline. 

Retail Metrics president Ken Perkins explained that consumers are spending on the home, new vehicles, and experiences, and should translate into decent overall holiday sales, but not necessarily at the mall-based department stores and speciality apparel chains. 

Winners and losers

Zumiez was by far the worst performer during the month, posting a double-digit comparable store sales decline. Gap was not far behind with an 8% fall, pulled down by a 19% slump at its Banana Republic brand. Old Navy reported a 9% drop and Gap's namesake brand fell 4%. 

Nonetheless, Gap CFO Sabrina Simmons noted: "With much of the holiday season still ahead, our teams remain focused on strong execution and delivering compelling experiences for customers across our brands."

With a 4.8% decline, Stein Mart missed Retail Metrics' expectations by 450 basis points. The company said the sales shortfall occurred during the first two and one-half weeks of the month. Sales then improved to flat to last year for the remainder of the month. 

L Brands was the clear standout performer in November, with both Victoria's Secret and Bath & Body Works generating record Black Friday results. Merchandise margin grew for the overall company year-on-year, up at Vicoria's Secret, and flat at Bath & Body Works. 

The Cato Corp said its 1% comparable store sales rise was "slightly above expectations". But chairman, president and CEO John Cato warned: "We remain cautious for the rest of the holiday shopping season and fourth-quarter." 

November sales overview

At action sportswear and footwear retailer Zumiez, comparable store sales slumped 13.8% during the four weeks to 29 November. The company, which operates 659 stores, said net sales declined 10.6% to $62.8m from $70.3m in the same period a year ago. 

Denim specialist The Buckle saw comparable store sales, for stores open at least one year, decline 7.9%. The company, which operates 469 stores, said net sales fell 6.8% to $96.9m from $104m in the prior year period. 

For value-priced fashion retailer Cato, November comparable store sales edged up 1%. The owner of the Cato, Versona and It's Fashion brands said net sales increased 3% to $76m from $73.8m last year. 

L Brands, owner of the Victoria's Secret, Pink and La Senza brands, booked net sales of $1.17bn, up 8% from $1.08bn a year ago. Comparable store sales grew 7% during the four week period. 

Off-price fashion retailer Stein Mart saw comparable store sales fall 4.8%. Net sales edged down 1.2% to $126.4m from $127.9m in the prior year for the company which operates 278 stores. 

And Gap reported an 8% decline in comparable store sales, weighed down by a double-digit decline at Banana Republic. The company, which operates 3,300 stores, said net sales were down 9% to $1.57bn from $1.72m last year.