November got off to a slow start on the sales front as many consumers attention was diverted to the highly contentious presidential election

November got off to a slow start on the sales front as many consumers attention was diverted to the highly contentious presidential election

Comparable store sales proved to be somewhat disappointing for the handful of US apparel retailers still reporting their figures in November, with only two recording increases. This was despite robust e-commerce growth from the Black Friday weekend and a more favourable macro backdrop to consumer spending.

According to first figures from research firm Retail Metrics, comparable store sales for the US retail sector as a whole missed analyst expectations, posting a rise of 0.8% relative to the 1.1% Retail Metrics consensus. This compares to a 1.4% increase in October.

Ken Perkins, Retail Metrics president, says November got off to a slow start on the sales front as the attention of many consumers was diverted to the highly contentious US presidential election.

During Black Friday weekend, traffic increased according to the National Retail Federation but actual sales declined with brick mortar traffic tailing off sharply after initial door busters generated decent traffic on Thanksgiving.

Winners and losers

Despite this, all but two of the apparel retailers still reporting monthly comparable store sales posted declines in November, with two companies reporting double-digit falls.

Denim specialist The Buckle fared the worst, posting a 16.2% drop in comparable store sales for the month of November. The decline marks its ninth straight double-digit decline and its 17th consecutive monthly same-store sales drop. The retailer, which operates 471 retail stores, saw net sales decline 15.9% to US$81.5m for the four weeks ended 26 November, from $96.9m in the year-ago period.

San Francisco-based Gap Inc, which operates around 3,300 company-operated stores and 450 franchise stores, turned in its 19th negative monthly comparable sales result for November, missing analyst expectations, and equalling the 1% drop it posted in September. This was versus an 8% decrease last year and compared to consensus estimates of a 0.5% decline. The apparel giant believes the fire at its Fishkill distribution centre in August negatively impacted November comparable sales by around 3 percentage points. Net sales, meanwhile, dropped to $1.53bn compared with $1.57bn in the same period last year.

Same-store declines for November were recorded at its Old Navy and namesake brand, of 2% and 3%, respectively. Banana Republic was the best-performing division and managed to generate a positive 5% gain. Gap said all divisions were negatively impacted by the fire.

"While November traffic trends remained challenging, we are encouraged that performance improved in the back half of the month and we remain focused on executing our holiday plans," said Sabrina Simmons, chief financial officer, Gap Inc.

Meanwhile, comparable store sales for value-priced fashion and accessories retailer Cato Corporation continued on their negative trend in November, falling 10%. Cato has now posted negative monthly comps in each of the last nine months and in ten of the first 11 months this year. Net sales for the month also dropped 10% to $68.2m, from sales of $76m for the same period last year. During the month of November, the company opened two new stores and relocated one store. 

CEO John Cato said: "November same-store sales were consistent with our current trend and we remain cautious for the rest of the fourth quarter."

L Brands, owner of the Victoria's Secret, Pink and La Senza brands, saw the month's second strongest performance, turning in a 4% comparable store sales rise for November. Net sales increased 7% to $1.25bn for the four weeks ended 26 November. The company operates 3,085 company-owned specialty stores in the US, Canada, the UK and Greater China.

Speciality apparel and footwear retailer Zumiez put in the strongest performance, with a 5.7% increase in comparable store sales, compares with a 13.8% decrease in the period last year, but missed November comp expectations by 400 basis points. It was the teen chain's third straight positive comp following a string of 17 consecutive negative same store sales declines. Total sales were up 10.3% to $69.3m, compared to $62.8m in the year-ago period. The company operates 689 across the US, Canada, Europe and Australia.