All but one retailer booked comparable store sales gains in November

All but one retailer booked comparable store sales gains in November

Early Black Friday promotions, falling fuel prices, and labour market improvements all helped the majority of US apparel retailers to record better-than-expected comparable store sales growth in November. 

First figures from research firm Retail Metrics show comparable store sales for the US retail sector as a whole grew by 4.4% - better than its original forecast of 3.4%. According to Ken Perkins, president of Retail Metrics, November was characterised by retailers, including Wal-Mart Stores, initiating pre-Black Friday promotions straight after Halloween.

"As wage and income growth languish, retailers felt ever more pressured to offer incentives to get consumers into stores and onto websites," he explained. "Earlier deals provided consumers with more options to purchase and resulted in fewer Black Friday weekend shoppers as sales were likely spread throughout the month."

A preliminary tally from the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) was more optimistic with a 4.9% year-on-year rise.

"Sales showed a steady industry-wide performance for the month, with apparel showing a strong uptick compared to October," said ICSC spokesperson Jesse Tron. "It's an encouraging reading for the holiday season and means we should continue to expect significant improvement over the 2013 season."

Winners and losers 
All but one of the apparel retailers which now report monthly comparable store sales posted gains in November. L Brands turned in another "impressive" month, according to Retail Metrics, as it continued to outperform most of the retail industry in terms of sales growth.

The women's wear retailer beat its guidance for a low-single digit comparable store sales increase with its 8% gain, with merchandise margins up for both Victoria's Secret and Bath and Body Works.

The Cato Corp and discount retailer Stein Mart posted increases of 7% and 4.8% respectively - both better than Retail Metrics consensus.

"November same-store sales were above expectations," said Cato chairman, president and CEO John Cato. "However, we remain cautious for the rest of the holiday shopping season and fourth quarter."

Gap Inc delivered a "standout" performance, noted outgoing CEO Glenn Murphy, after customers responded positively to the group's holiday assortment and marketing. Comparable store sales increased 18% at Old Navy, and were up 2% at Banana Republic, offsetting a 4% decline at Gap.

"With much of the holiday season still ahead, we remain focused on strong execution across all of our brands," Murphy added.

November sales overview 
Action sportswear and footwear retailer Zumiez booked a 6.3% increase in comparable store sales for the four weeks to 29 November. The group, which operates 604 stores, said net sales grew 12.6% to US$70.3m from $62.4m in the same period of last year.

Denim specialist The Buckle saw November comparable store sales, for stores open at least one year, edge down 1%. Net sales rose 2.7% to $104m from $101.2m for the company which operates 463 stores.

Value-priced fashion retailer The Cato Corp said comparable store sales were up 7% in November. The owner of the Cato, Versona and It's Fashion brands saw net sales grow 10% to $73.8m from $67.3m a year ago.

For L Brands, November net sales increase 9% to $1.08bn from $988.5m last year. The owner of the Victoria's Secret, Pink and La Senza brands, said comparable store sales rose 8%.

Off-price fashion retailer Stein Mart saw comparable store sales grow 4.8% during the four weeks to 29 November. The company, which operates more than 260 stores, said net sales reached $127.9m, up 6.7% from $119.9m a year ago.

And clothing giant Gap reported a 6% increase in November comparable store sales, helped by strong gains at Old Navy. The San Francisco-based retailer, which operates more than 3,200 stores, said net sales were up 5.5% to $1.72bn from $1.63bn last year.