US women's wear retailer Ascena Retail Group has booked a loss in its fourth-quarter and lower sales as the company battled slowing store traffic and booked costs related to its transformation plan and acquisition of Ann Inc.

Net losses amounted to US$16m in the three months ended 29 July from earnings of $14m a year earlier. Gross margin on a GAAP basis narrowed slightly to 57.4% from 57.5% in the year-ago period.

Net sales, meanwhile, dropped to $1.66bn compared to $1.81bn last year reflecting the impact of a 4% comparable sales decline, which was caused primarily by mid-single digit declines in average selling price and store traffic, offset in part by double-digit transaction growth in the direct channel. The year-ago period also included around $82m associated with the 53rd week in the company's reporting calendar. 

"To be clear, conditions remain challenging - store traffic was down mid-single digits for the quarter, and we are planning for this trend to continue for the foreseeable future," said CEO David Jaffe. "While comp sales performance was several points better than our guide, we were not pleased with the results, and we will not be satisfied until we deliver positive, sustained enterprise-level comp sales."