Comparable store sales grew in February despite weather headwinds

Comparable store sales grew in February despite weather headwinds

US apparel retailers reported mixed comparable store sales in February, with some severely impacted by adverse weather conditions but others benefiting from a pick-up in traffic in the latter part of the month. 

Comparable store sales for the retail sector as a whole increased 2.7% in February, according to first figures from Retail Metrics and the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC).

But the results were much weaker when factoring out drug store results - rising just 1.7%, according to Ken Perkins, president of Retail Metrics.

"A number of retailers commented on the negative impact weather had on company sales this month, creating store closings and reduced operating hours for retailers and a decrease in spring category demand for consumers," added Michael Niemira, chief economist, vice president and director of research at ICSC. 

For March, he noted, sales are expected to stay "roughly in line" with the current trend due in part to the late timing of Easter this year. 

"Easter, a catalyst for spring family apparel demand, fell at the end of March last year providing a boost to the month. This year, Easter will fall three weeks later on 20 April, shifting that demand out of March and into April.

"A later Easter is actually more favourable on a net basis for driving sales - largely because it is warmer - which is a reason to expect even stronger sales in April."

Winners and losers
Zumiez rebounded in February from its disappointing 7.6% decline in January. According to CEO Rick Brooks, sales improved on the back of "increased traffic as we cleared excess inventory carried over from the holiday season". But, he added, product margins fell year-on-year.

John Cato, chairman, president and CEO of The Cato Corporation, said "strong selling in the last two weeks of the month driven by warmer weather and tax refund spending" offset the impact of the winter storms. The group's 1% comparable store sales increase exceeded Retail Metrics' estimates, and was up sharply from its 8% decline in the prior month. 

L Brands, formerly Limited Brands, operator of the Victoria's Secret lingerie stores, said sales were solid around Valentine's Day. The retailer added that inventories rose 11% and are likely to be up mid-single digits by the end of the first quarter and flat at the end of the second quarter.

Gap Inc, however, was by far the worst performer during the month with a 7% fall, after weather related store closures led to declines at all three of its brands. Comparable store sales were down 10% at Gap, 7% at Banana Republic, and 6% at Old Navy. 

"While February was clearly a difficult month, we remain focused on executing our global priorities," said chairman and CEO Glenn Murphy. 

Stein Mart also blamed its comparable store sales decline on "severe winter weather", with the Northeast and Midwest being impacted the most.

US retailers' February 2014 sales roundup 
Action sportswear and footwear retailer Zumiez saw comparable store sales climb 2% during the four weeks 2 March. The company, which operates 552 stores, said net sales increased 8.8% to $48.4m from $44.5m in the prior year period.

For denim specialist The Buckle, February comparable store sales slipped 1.4%. Net sales, however, edged up 0.2% to $89.5m from $89.3m last year for the company which operates 450 stores.

Value-priced fashion retailer The Cato Corp, whose brands include Cato, Versona and It's Fashion, saw comparable store sales increase 1% in the four-month period. Net sales reached $87m, up 3% from $84.7m in the previous year.

Over at L Brands, February net sales grew 5.2% to $750m against $712.7m in the same period of last year. The owner of the Victoria's Secret, Pink and La Senza brands saw comparable store sales rise 2%.

Off-price fashion retailer Stein Mart saw comparable store sales fall 2.1%. The company, which operates 264 stores, said net sales stood at $84.5m, down 2.5% from $86.7m the year earlier.

And clothing giant Gap Inc reported a 7% decline in February comparable store sales, weighed down by weather related store closures. The San Francisco-based retailer, which operates 3,100 stores, saw net sales drop 3.8% to $929m from $966m last year.