Several major apparel and accessory brands this week reported weaker sales, a sign that the industry is still struggling to address last year’s retail inventory glut and the prospect of weaker consumer spending.
Companies have been discounting everything from Levi’s skinny jeans to Vans sneakers and reporting squeezed profits as a result. At the same time, department stores have been slower to replenish merchandise or canceled orders as consumer demand remains fragile and they address their own product glut, retail executives said.
The tension reflects how several brands, even those that have their own physical stores and websites, still rely on wholesaling, or selling goods often in large quantities to third parties, to support their business and reach a wider range of customers.
Capri Holdings Ltd.
, the corporate parent of Versace and Michael Kors, said Wednesday that sales to department stores and other third parties fell 20% in its latest quarter from the prior year.
& Co. finance chief
said in January that the company’s most recent quarter was a “tale of two channels,” with strong direct-to-consumer sales but weaker wholesale performance.
, owner of brands like North Face and Vans, said its wholesale partners are being conservative with their spring and summer order books because of broader concerns about the economy and higher inventory levels. VF’s inventory as of Dec. 31 more than doubled from year-ago levels, which the company attributed to less accurate inventory purchases, higher order cancellations and lower consumer demand.
“The underlying expectations for next year is a cautious environment—a cautious wholesale environment in the U.S. and to some degree in Europe as well,” said
VF’s finance chief, on an earnings conference call.
Suppliers’ uneven results also speak to the challenges facing department stores, which were struggling to remain relevant before the pandemic amid the rise of new online brands and the dominance of discount chains and fast-fashion retailers. Department store executives have discussed the need to support their own private-label brands while avoiding inventory mistakes in case there are rapid demand shifts.
Quarterly earnings reports from department-store chains like
and superstores like
are due out over the next month.
“A lot of what we’ve done to date is really being much more disciplined in our buys and changing fundamentally the way we think about leaning into the demand,” said
finance chief for Macy’s, at an analyst event in January.
Earlier in the pandemic, many retailers ordered products beyond typical levels because consumer demand was strong and executives sought to avoid items being out of stock due to long transit times, among other supply-chain disruptions.
Now, sellers of apparel and footwear are racing to bring down inventory levels to free up capital for other uses, including having seasonal merchandise that meets shoppers’ needs. Their latest challenge: getting consumers to fork over cash. Retail spending fell in December at the sharpest pace of 2022, marking the third decline in four months.
Under Armour Inc.
reported a nearly 50% increase in inventory from March to December, but said that it hoped to work those levels down in the months ahead. Higher-than-planned discounts in its wholesale business and increased promotions in its direct-to-consumer channel hurt quarterly profits, it said.
Under Armour executives said that work is under way to boost the brand’s cachet with consumers as well as its retail partners. Wholesale accounted for roughly 53% of the company’s net sales in the latest quarter, up from about 52% in the year-earlier period.
“One of the bigger opportunities is being able to more aggressively expand into the mall channel and some of the great partners that are in the mall business,” said Under Armour finance chief
on an earnings conference call Wednesday.
Ralph Lauren Corp.
reported a slight rise in quarterly sales, helped by average prices rising 10% in the period from the prior year. Profit margins took a hit as a result of higher promotions and the company called out weaker spending among its less affluent consumers.
However, the company gained market share in its men’s, women’s and children’s categories with key retail partners, said
‘s finance and operating chief, on an earnings conference call Thursday, adding that she expects the overall wholesale business to grow in the current quarter.
“We’ve done a lot of work over the past few years to evolve our customer base” to bring in a less price-sensitive, younger buyer, said Chief Executive
on the conference call.
Some companies showed progress in their wholesale business.
reported in late December that part of what drove its quarterly sales growth was strong interest from retail partners in its products.
Nike executives also said the company’s inventory peak was behind it. Sellers of Nike products, such as
Foot Locker Inc.,
have said their sales improved, in part, because they had access to products that were hard to get in recent years.
Write to Inti Pacheco at email@example.com
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