The majority of apparel retailers posted comparable store sales declines

The majority of apparel retailers posted comparable store sales declines

Unseasonably warm weather weighed on US retailers' sales of autumn clothing in October, combining with sluggish mall traffic, softer Halloween sales, lacklustre income gains, and a continued shift in spending to motor vehicles, experiences and restaurants to push the majority of clothing chains to comparable store sales declines in the month. 

First figures from Retail Metrics show comparable store sales for the US retail sector as a whole were below expectations, dropping 0.2% in October, after a 0.7% rise in September. 

But including Gap Inc's 3% fall, which missed Retail Metrics expectations for a 0.6% dip, the research firm said the decline deepened to 0.4%. 

Winners and losers

The majority of those apparel retailers still reporting monthly comparable store sales booked declines during the month, with Zumiez faring the worst. After being one of the best performers in the back half of 2014, the group's seventh consecutive negative monthly decline fell short of Retail Metrics' expectations. The last time Zumiez had more than three consecutive negative monthly comparable store sales was at the height of the Great Recession in 2009.

The Buckle also missed expectations, reporting its fourth consecutive monthly comparable store sales decline with a 5.8% drop that missed expectations by 140 basis points. 

Stein Mart said unseasonably warm weather impacted traffic and sales during the quarter. "We continue to have a positive outlook on our important fourth quarter holiday sales which will include incremental sales from six new stores opened through the third quarter plus four more new stores opening in November," said CEO Jay Stein. 

Meanwhile, Gap's performance marked the seventh consecutive month of negative comparable store sales declines. The company has racked up negative monthly comparable store sales in nine of the first ten months of this year while missing monthly comparable store sales estimates in seven of ten months this year.

Banana Republic was the primary drag on October results posting a 15% decline, while the namesake brand posted a 4% fall that fell short of expectations. Old Navy was the only segment to turn in a positive performance, up 2%, but it also missed estimates.

Cato, however, came in above its own and Retail Metrics' guidance by seeing comparable store sales climb 1%. With positive trends and a favourable tax adjustment of $.06 per share, the company has lifted its third-quarter earnings per diluted share to range from $0.24-0.28, compared to its earlier guidance of $0.18 to $0.22. 

L Brands, which was the other retailer to report growth, also raised its earnings guidance to be between $0.51 and $0.53, compared to its previous forecast of $0.40 to $0.45.

October sales overview

At action sportswear and footwear retailer Zumiez, comparable store sales declined 8.1% during the four weeks to 31 October. The company, which operates 653 stores, said net sales fell 5.4% to $48.9m from $51.7m last year. 

Denim specialist The Buckle saw comparable store sales, for stores open at least one year, drop 5.8%. Net sales fell 4.7% to $81.4m from $85.4m a year ago for the company, which operates 469 stores.

For value-priced fashion retailer Cato, September comparable store sales edged up 1%. The owner of the Cato, Versona and It's Fashion brands said net sales increased 4% to $73.2m from $70.5m in the prior year.

L Brands, owner of the Victoria's Secret, Pink and La Senza brands, booked net sales of $735.6m, up 5% from $700m last year. Comparable store sales grew 5% during the five week period. 

Off-price fashion retailer Stein Mart saw comparable store sales drop 2.5%. Net sales edged down 0.5% to $97.3m from $97.8m the year before for the company, which operates more than 270 stores.

And Gap reported a 3% dip in comparable store sales, hurt by a double-digit decline at Banana Republic. The company, which operates 3,300 stores, said net sales were also down 4.8% to $1.20bn from $1.26bn last year.