Holiday scorecard: Winners, losers and those in between

In what was arguably one of the strangest holiday season in recent memory – for a variety of reasons – retailers have reported a variety of results ranging from impressive to outright awful.

A strange mix of crosscurrents made the recently ended holiday season made for one of the most unusual and challenging selling environments in recent memory. Exceptionally low gas prices had a muted impact as did a job market that was seemingly improved but characterized by a lack of wage growth. While retailers were coping with factors affecting consumers ability to spend, they were also dealing with the an always intensely competitive time of year made even more so by the forces of e-commerce coupled with increased expense pressures associated with executing complex omnichannel sales and fulfillment strategies.

The first week of the New Year saw a wide range of companies disclose what proved to be a real mixed bag of results for the holiday season. A handful of others reported third quarter results that included the early part of the season. Here’s a look at how they fared in no particular order:

Macy’s: Yikes! November and December same store sales at Macy’s declined 4.7%, much worse than what was already disappointing guidance that called for a 2% to 3% decline. The weak topline prompted the company to lower its profit outlook, disclose the locations of 40 previously announced store closures and lay off thousands in stores and at headquarters. One bright spot was online, where the company said it achieved 25% growth and filled nearly 17 million orders. Chairman and CEO Terry Lundgren said the company was particularly disadvantage by the warm weather. “About 80% of our company's year-over-year declines in comparable sales can be attributed to shortfalls in cold-weather goods such as coats, sweaters, boots, hats, gloves and scarves,” Lundgren said. “We also continued to feel the impact of lower spending by international tourists as the value of the dollar remained strong.”

J.C. Penney: What warm weather? J.C. Penney produced a 3.9% same stores sales increase in November and December, putting it on a trajectory to achieve its full year forecast of comps in the 4% to 5% range after reporting inreases of 3.4%, 4.1% and 6.4% in the first, second and third quarters. CEO Marvin Ellison did say warm weather negatively affected apparel sales, but touted the company’s success with private brands, compelling gift offerings and solid omnichannel execution with orders place online shipped from 250 stores. “I am especially pleased with the accelerated comp sales improvement from November to December, including record online sales for the company during the holiday season,” Ellison said.

Hhgregg: No weather excuses here. This operator of 227 stores said same store sales for its third quarter ended Dec. 31 declined 11%. The decline was most pronounced in the computer and tablet category where comps declined an estimated 35%, followed by a 10% decline in appliances, an 8% decline in consumer electronics and a 3% increase in home products. CEO Dennis May said, “we were challenged by the competitive pressures in the market.”

Conn’s: A 13.9% same store sales increase in the furniture and mattress category, wasn’t enough to offset weakness in electronics, home office and other categories, resulting in an overall comp decline of 5.9% for the period ended Dec. 31. “Excluding the impact of our decision to exit video game products, digital cameras, and certain tablets, same store sales for December increased 1.8%,” said Conn’s CEO Norm Miller.

American Eagle Outfitters: Fourth quarter same store sales to date increased 4% at American Eagle, the company said in press release on Jan. 8 that affirmed its profit forecast. CEO Jay Schottenstein said the company had a solid holiday season despite a very challenging environment. “The online business was particularly strong, and we leveraged our omnichannel tools to deliver an improved customer experience,” Schottenstein said.

Gordmans: This operator of 102 discount department stores played the weather card in explaining why its 1.9% same store sales decline in November and December was worse than expected. President and CEO Andy Hall said, “Following a positive start to the fourth quarter, sales declined in December as unfavorably warm weather throughout our upper Midwest foot print negatively impacted pre-Christmas store traffic. Full fourth quarter sales are expected to decline between 1% and 1.5% versus an earlier forecast that had comps ranging from flat to up 2%.

Finish Line: After weathering a disastrous third quarter, this operator of more than 1,000 predominantly mall-based athletic footwear and apparel stores said it expects same store sales to increase in the low to mid single digit range in the fourth quarter ending Feb. 27. Comps declined 5.8% in the third quarter ended Nov. 28, largely due to supply chain issues cause by the implementation of a new warehouse and order management system. The problems have been resolved, according to Chairman and CEO Glenn Lyon.

Bed Bath & Beyond: This leading home goods hinted of holiday challenges ahead when it preannounced weak sales and profit estimates on Dec. 22, for its third quarter that ended November 28. Sure enough, comps during the period, which included most of Thanksgiving weekend, were essentially flat, on a constant currency basis, with a decline in stores offset by online growth. The company said expects it fourth quarter comps to be flat to up 2%.

Gap Inc.: Total sales for the five weeks ended Jan. 2 fell 3% on a constant currency basis and same store sales fell 5%. Comps declined 9% at Banana Republic, 7% at Old Navy and 2% at Gap.

Container Store: This operator of 77 stores revealed that it expects fourth quarter same store sales to decline between 3% and 5% when it announced ddddor the third quarter ended Nov. 28 on Jan. 8. Third quarter comps increased 0.5%, but the introduction of free shipping in April on orders of more than $75 dinged profits.

Costco: The nation’s leading membership warehouse club had an okay holiday season with same store sales at U.S. clubs up 4%, excluding the impact of gasoline sales.

Five Below: Things were looking up at Five Below during the nine week period ended Jan. 2. Same store sales increased 4.1%, which prompted CEO Joel Anderson to say, “We are very pleased with our strong performance across both new and existing stores during the all-important holiday season which illustrates the broad appeal and value proposition of Five Below.” Exciting and cohesive marketing improved brand awareness of Five Below’s.

Children’s Place: This operator of nearly 1,100 stores blew away its sales expectations for the holiday season with same store sales up 7.3% for the first nine weeks of its fourth quarter, far better than guidance that called for a low single digit increase and a prior year gain of 7.3%. The strong results prompted CEO Jane Elfers to comment, “We have consistently stated that our multi-pronged transformation strategy would begin to deliver results in the back half of 2015 and our announcement today clearly indicates that we are on track.”

Toys “R” Us: Toys “R” Us produced surprisingly strong results, especially online, despite operating in what is arguably the most competitive of all holiday categories. Same store sales at domestic stores increased 2.9% while internationally comps increased 5.1%, on a constant currency basis, during the five week period ended Jan. 2. The company said it enjoyed particular strength in online sales, but did not disclose a percentage growth rate, with core toy, learning and seasonal categories generating the strongest growth. “Our positive holiday same store sales results demonstrate our ability to execute our holiday plan in a highly competitive marketplace,” said Toys “R” Us CEO Dave Brandon. “We successfully maintained a strong in-stock position on the hottest toys while offering customers competitive prices and an extensive merchandise assortment, both in stores and online.”

Barnes & Noble: The operator of 640 stores and BN.com said its “core” same store sales for the nine-week holiday period ended Jan. 2, increased 1.6% on top of a prior year increase of 1.7%. Retail sales, which include Barnes & Noble stores and BN.com, declined 0.8% to $1.1 billion. Sales of the company’s NOOK products declined 25.8% to $41.2 million which caused total company same store sales to increase 0.6%. CEO Ron Boire said the company was pleased with the performance of its bookstores, adding, “We were also encouraged by the improved performance of BN.com during December, as the site remained stable and traffic improved through the holiday period.”

Fred’s: This Memphis-based operator of 659 discount stores – 376 with a pharmacy – said same store sales for December increased 2.4%, however that was on top of prior year decline of 1.4%. Commenting on the December results, CEO Jerry Shore said he was pleased and attributed the growth to holiday season merchandising initiatives and the specialty pharmacy business. Strength in the general merchandise and holiday gift-giving areas were offset by weakness in the retail pharmacy business due to the low incidence of cold and flu activity.

Tandy Leather Factory: December was a good month for leather. Tandy Leather Factory CEO Jon Thompson said the company set a new monthly record with sales of $9.1 million and, importantly, it did so without sacrificing margin to cap off what had been a challenging year. Same store sales at the company’s 82 retail leathercraft stores increased 3%.

Stein Mart: This operator of 278 off-price department stores said its same stores sales increased 1.8% during the five week period ended Jan. 2, on top of a prior year increase of 5.8%.

The Buckle: Things were pretty quiet for this operator of 469 mall-based apparel, footwear and accessories stores. Same store sales declined 5.4%.

Signet Jewelers: The world’s largest retailer of diamond jewelry, with banners such as Kay, Jared and Zale, got even bigger during the eight weeks ended Dec. 26. Total same store sales increased 4.9% on top of a prior year increase of 3.6%, giving the company confidence that it would achieve the upper end of its profit forecast. CEO Mark Light said, “Signet delivered excellent holiday sales as a result of the successful execution of our product, marketing, and omnichannel selling strategies, as well as our superior customer experience.”

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