All of the apparel retailers still reporting monthly comparable store sales posted declines in March

All of the apparel retailers still reporting monthly comparable store sales posted declines in March

April proved to the latest in a line of difficult months for the handful of US apparel retailers still reporting their monthly comparable sales figures, with all but one recording a decline.

According to research firm Retail Metrics, April same-store sales were up 2.3%, falling short of expectations of a 2.9% gain, and compared to a 0.2% rise in the same month last year and a 2.2% increase in March.

However, Retail Metrics president Ken Perkins says, while the jobs market continues to chug along with the April ADP private sector employment index adding 177,000 new jobs, retail sales and earnings are having a very difficult go of it.

Winners and losers

All but one of the apparel retailers still reporting monthly comparable store sales posted declines in April, with one booking its 22nd consecutive decline.

Denim specialist The Buckle posted a 3.5% comp store sales decline that represented an improvement from a 10.1% drop last month, and exceeded Retail Metrics' consensus estimate of a 6.2% decline. The Kearney, Nebraska-based chain has now racked up a string of 22 straight negative monthly same-store sales results. It was, however, the smallest monthly comp decline since August 2015. The Buckle, which operates 467 retail stores, saw net sales also decline 3.9% to US$62.6m for the four weeks ended 29 April, down from $65.2m in the year-ago period.

Meanwhile, comparable store sales for value-priced fashion and accessories retailer Cato Corporation continued on their negative trend in April, despite posting better than expected results and breaking a string of five consecutive double-digit declines. The retailer saw comp store sales decline 2% after being hit by the Easter holiday shift from March last year to April this year. However, this was an improvement from a 21% decline in March. Cato has now posted negative monthly comps in each of the last 14 months. Net sales for the month also declined by 2%, dropping to $80.6m from $81.9m in the same period last year.

CEO John Cato said: "Our negative sales trends persisted throughout March and April as we continued to work through our merchandise assortment missteps. We still expect first quarter earnings to be significantly less than last year."

L Brands, owner of the Victoria's Secret, Pink and La Senza brands, turned in a 5% comparable store sales decline for April, that fell short of Retail Metrics' -3.3% forecast but represented a 500 basis point sequential improvement from the specialty apparel chain's 10% March comp decline. Net sales were down 2% to $719.6m for the four weeks ended 29 April. The company noted the exit of both the swim and apparel businesses had a negative 6 percentage point impact on total company April same-store sales. It added the late Easter had a positive 3 percentage point impact on comparable sales for the month.

Speciality apparel and footwear retailer Zumiez, meanwhile, turned in a solid 7.8% increase in comparable store sales, compared with a decrease of 6% in the period last year, and handily exceeding Retail Metrics' expectations of a 4.5% gain. Juniors, accessories, and men's comped positive during April while footwear and hardware were both down. Total sales also increased, up 10.3% to $56.5m, compared to $51.2m in the year-ago period. The company operates 688 stores across the US, Canada, Europe and Australia. 

Last month, San Francisco-based Gap Inc, which operates around 3,300 company-operated stores and 450 franchise stores, confirmed to just-style it is "moving away from monthly sales reporting."