Small brands and major retailers alike have been bracing for a muted holiday shopping season this year due to concerns about a weakening economy, high inflation, excess inventory, and softening consumer demand. Anxiety built further when major fall seasonal sales, including Amazon’s second Prime Day of 2022 (the first time the company has ever had two Prime Days in one year) and Veteran’s Day in October were met with lukewarm receptions by consumers. Ahead of Thanksgiving weekend (including Thanksgiving Day, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday), the National Retail Federation (NRF) announced tepid expectations for this holiday season: a 6% to 8% increase from last year, representing a decline in sales when factoring in the effect of inflation.
With all of this in mind, many retailers started sales early and geared their deals toward value-oriented consumers and shedding excess inventory. All eyes have been on the results from the Thanksgiving weekend sales, with many hoping that solid results could foretell a better-than-feared holiday season.
While it will take a few weeks to calculate spending trends across all channels, the preliminary online traffic and sales results released by commerce platforms and large online retailers may offer early insights into the rest of the holiday season. According to figures from Adobe, Black Friday was record-breaking this year, with online sales of $9.1 billion, up 2.3% from last year, with online sales for the entire weekend totaling $29 billion. Shopify, the commerce platform of choice for smaller, independent businesses, saw 52 million consumers generate transaction volume of $7.5 billion for the weekend across all Shopify merchants, a 19% increase in volume from 2021. Amazon said this year’s Thanksgiving shopping weekend was its largest ever.
On their face, the Thanksgiving weekend sales events appear to have been a success. However, lurking below the topline figures are signs that these early results may not be a good bellwether for total holiday sales or profitability. The timing of consumers’ shopping, and how they financed these purchases may prove to be better predictors about what is to come than the headline sales numbers.
During the pandemic, many consumers began holiday shopping as early as September and October due to fear of stock outs and shipping delays. But this year, consumers increasingly held out for Thanksgiving weekend to find the biggest and best deals of the season. NRF reported that a record 196.7 million Americans made purchases either in-store or online during the big weekend, signaling that more than ever before, consumers are seeking competitive prices. According to Adobe, discounts across categories during Thanksgiving weekend averaged up to 16% for apparel, 24% for electronics, and 34% for toys. Further highlighting the pinch shoppers are feeling due to inflation this year, orders using buy-now-pay-later (BNPL) rose by 78% the week of Nov. 19 to Nov. 25, and nearly one-third of shoppers financed their purchases using credit, loans or leveraged installment plans.
After a challenging year, brands and retailers are under intense pressure to deliver during this holiday shopping season, and Thanksgiving weekend was just the beginning. The good turnout for the Thanksgiving weekend may allay some fears that the consumer is too skittish to shop and spend this year but may also reinforce concerns that people are only shopping when there are big discounts. The $29 billion spent over the big weekend accounts for only a fraction of the $210 billion anticipated this holiday season, signaling that brands and retailers certainly aren’t out of the woods yet.
Headlines of the Week
Job growth was much better than expected in November despite the Federal Reserve’s aggressive efforts to slow the labor market and tackle inflation. Nonfarm payrolls increased 263,000 for the month while the unemployment rate was 3.7%, the Labor Department reported. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones had been looking for an increase of 200,000 on the payrolls number and 3.7% for the jobless rate. The monthly gain was a slight decrease from October’s upwardly revised 284,000. A broader measure of unemployment that includes discouraged workers and those holding part-time jobs for economic reasons edged lower to 6.7%. The numbers likely will do little to slow a Fed that has been raising interest rates steadily this year to bring down inflation still running near its highest level in more than 40 years. The rate increases have brought the Fed’s benchmark overnight borrowing rate to a target range of 3.75%-4%.
Apparel & Footwear
H&M Group has announced a restructuring charge for its global cost and efficiency programme. The programme relates to administrative and overhead costs and also entails reducing the workforce by around 1,500 positions. In a statement, the global fashion giant said that as communicated previously, the H&M group has initiated a global programme to reduce costs and further improve efficiency in business. Overall, it is estimated that this will provide annual savings of around SEK 2 billion which are expected to become visible in the second half of 2023. The programme is expected to result in a restructuring charge of just over SEK 800 million in the fourth quarter of 2022. Helena Helmersson, CEO of the company said, “The cost and efficiency programme that we have initiated involves reviewing our organisation and we are very mindful of the fact that colleagues will be affected by this. We will support our colleagues in finding the best possible solution for their next step.”
Foot Locker announced a slew of changes to its executive ranks on Tuesday, all effective Dec. 1. Among them was the hire of Elliott Rodgers, who previously served as supply chain and IT chief at Ulta Beauty, as the footwear retailer’s new chief operations officer. Frank Bracken, Foot Locker’s current COO, is set to become chief commercial officer. The company also promoted Rosalind Reeves, vice president for talent, diversity and organization capability, to chief human resources officers. Reeves replaces Elizabeth Norberg, who is stepping down on Dec. 1 and will depart after a transition period. Also leaving the company is Chief Financial Officer Andrew Page, who is set to transition out of the role after Foot Locker’s Q4 report to pursue other opportunities. The retailer said it is starting a search for a new CFO with a recruiting firm. Mary Dillon has made some swift changes since taking on the CEO role in early September. In her first earnings call as chief in November, she announced plans to simplify the footwear retailer, including through a wind down of some European ventures, while making investments in omnichannel and loyalty, among other improvements.
Superdry has confirmed it is in talks with a US hedge fund as the business faces an uncertain future if it cannot secure a new lender. The clothing retailer said last month that there was a “material uncertainty” over the future of its business as a £70 million loan facility is set to expire in January. Last week, Superdry confirmed a report in the Telegraph that it is trying to secure funding from Bantry Bay Capital, which is backed by US activist investor Elliott Advisors. “Superdry acknowledges recent press speculation about its previously announced refinancing process and confirms that it is in negotiations with Bantry Bay Capital Ltd, the specialist lending provider, to replace the existing up to £70 million asset-backed lending facility,” the business said on Monday. It added that there was no certainty of an agreement and it would make a further announcement “when appropriate”.
Gordon Brothers provided Everlane a $25 million term loan that’s secured by the sustainable apparel, accessories and footwear retailer’s digitally native brand and working capital assets. Everlane will use the loan to support over a decade of continued growth. “Gordon Brothers’ flexible approach will help build a better capitalized business that matches the strength of Everlane’s underlying brand,” said Bill Wafford, Chief Financial Officer of Everlane. “Everlane is poised for continued expansion as it resonates with an increasing number of consumers who are making active decisions around the effect of their purchases—and want to look great while doing so.”
Athletic & Sporting Goods
Nike, Lululemon and Ulta, among others, are emerging as early winners of the holiday season, according to a report from Earnest Research. Those retailers are among a handful seeing the most sales growth this year based on early holiday spending data (Nov. 1 to Nov. 16). Nike saw the highest spending growth year-over-year (18%) during that period, followed by Lululemon (17%), The RealReal (8%), Shein (7%), and Walmart and Ulta (both 6%). While there have been some winners so far this season, overall spend growth decelerated from Nov. 1 to Nov. 16, according to Earnest Research. The 5% growth rate was “notably slower” than comparable periods in 2020 and 2021, per the report. Earnest Research pointed to a pullback in discretionary spending as one reason for slower growth, and noted that the slowdown in consumer spending accelerated in October despite early holiday deals.
JB Capital, an alternative credit manager investing in market areas underserved by traditional banks, announces its strategic investment in Miami-based CROSSNET, a health and fitness company that invented the sport of the eponymous name. Invented in 2017, CROSSNET is the world’s first four-square-volleyball-like net game. The game is used in over 100,000 homes and is sold in 3,500 retailers, including DICK’S, Sam’s Club, Academy Sports, and more. CROSSNET prides itself on being an all-inclusive sport that can be enjoyed by families and young adults, as well as the most competitive volleyball players on the planet. The net is height-adjustable for men’s, women’s and children’s volleyball heights and is now proudly the official backyard game of USA Volleyball & Canada Volleyball.
Cosmetics & Pharmacy
L’Oréal has acquired a minority stake in French biotech firm and microalgae manufacturer Microphyt. The beauty goliath said it will work with Microphyt to build a technological platform to create raw materials from microalgae biomass. Microalgae are microscopic plant organisms used in cosmetics for their active properties and functional qualities. Both companies aim to use the ingredient to develop new cosmetic solutions. The minority stake acquisition also supports L’Oréal’s 2030 sustainable development programme. The scheme aims to ensure that 95% of its ingredients will be bio-sourced, derived from abundant minerals or from circular processes. “Our ambition is to collaborate across the world with the most disruptive scientific entities in Green Sciences, in order to collectively develop responsible innovations on a large scale and make them available to as many people as possible,” said Barbara Lavernos, Deputy CEO at L’Oréal Group. Microphyt said the partnership with L’Oréal also reinforces its own strategic roadmap. In the last 18 months, the business has launched three innovative active ingredients in cosmetics.
Rite Aid is going smaller — by more than half. The pharmacy retailer has launched a small format store pilot for “pharmacy deserts” and underserved communities. The first location opened earlier this month, in Craigsville, Va., which has less than 1,000 residents. Two additional stores are planned to open in Virginia by early 2023, with one opening in December in Greenville, and the other early next year, in Scottsville. Rite Aid’s new smaller-store format will average approximately 3,000 sq. ft., which is significantly smaller than the average 11,000-sq.-ft. to 15,000-sq.-ft. standard Rite Aid location. The smaller stores will feature a full-service pharmacy, along with an assortment of health and wellness products. The new Rite Aid Pharmacy in Craigsville is situated in the heart of the community next to the library, post office and town hall. Until it opened, residents had to drive to neighboring communities for pharmacy services. The store has a full-time pharmacist and a full-time pharmacy technician. Part-time pharmacy technicians will float between two area Rite Aid Pharmacy locations.
Discounters & Department Stores
Just a few months ago, the off-price sector looked like it might be less resilient than in the past. In the second quarter, TJX Cos., Ross and Burlington — which dominate the off-price space and often benefit from both economic upturns and downturns — all demonstrated to varying extents that they weren’t immune to inventory struggles, inflation’s drag on discretionary spending, or fresh competition from highly promotional specialty retailers and department stores. In the third quarter, though, those retailers bounced back. Their promise of good deals on apparel and home goods fits the moment, especially as the holidays grow closer, and they seem to be better controlling their inventories. In October, their combined sales were 20% above October 2019, according to research from Bloomberg Second Measure. Though not addressed in that report, Nordstrom’s off-price Rack business isn’t keeping up with its three main competitors, according to other analysts.
Dollar General’s top-line sales rose 11.1% year over year to $9.5 billion in the third quarter, with comparable sales up 6.8%, according to a press release. Operating profit at the discounter was up 10.5% to $735.5 million, but new CEO Jeff Owen pointed to higher-than-expected distribution and transportation costs as weighing on earnings. Due to elevated costs, as well as pressure from sales mix, shrink and damages, the company significantly lowered its forecasts for profit growth during the fiscal year, from a high end of 14% to, now, 8%.
Claire’s is opening shop-in-shops in about 21 Macy’s locations nationally, including eight flagship stores, the companies announced Tuesday. The shops, which began opening this month, offer hair accessories, jewelry and cosmetics all year, as well as seasonal items, “including festive products for holiday parties and celebrations,” according to the companies’ press release. Locations include Macy’s in Herald Square and Roosevelt Field in New York; South Coast Plaza in Los Angeles; Union Square in San Francisco; Dadeland and Aventura in Miami; Lenox Square in Atlanta; and Ala Moana in Honolulu, as well as Macy’s stores in Las Vegas and Orlando, Florida.
Emerging Consumer Companies
Joy, the San-Francisco-based wedding planning and universal registry platform, announced this week that it has raised a $60 million Series B. General Catalyst and Nordstrom led the round, bringing the company’s total funding to $106.5 million. The company, founded in 2015, allows couples to create a beautifully designed wedding website and mobile app, with built-in registry, RSVPs, and invitation printing services, among other features that enable couples to have a seamless event planning experience. The platform was created by co-founder and CEO, Vishal Joshi for use by his own family. Since the company raised its $20 million Series A in September of last year, the platform has grown rapidly, and the number of couples on the platform has tripled. With this fresh round of funding, the company plans to grow its headcount and expand its use case beyond weddings.
One year after its $22 million initial public offering, LA-based online wine club, Winc (NYSE: WBEV) has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The news further highlights the challenges of maintaining pandemic-level growth in the DTC alcohol space; aperitif brand, Haus, shuttered earlier this year after facing similar challenges. Founded in 2011, Winc positions itself as a modern, data-driven wine club for a new generation of wine consumers. The company produces various wines in-house and sells direct-to-consumer through its subscription service that uses data to learn what wines best suit each member. Additionally, the company sells wholesale at Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Target, and several restaurants and bars. While the company has not made any official announcement, the bankruptcy filing states that Winc, “entered into a confidential, non-binding agreement with a potential stalking horse bidder for substantially all of the Company’s assets,” signaling a potential upcoming sale of the business.
Food & Beverage
Hain Celestial named Wendy Davidson as its president and CEO starting Jan. 1, the company said in a press release. Davidson, an executive at Glanbia Performance Nutrition with leadership experience at Kellogg, McCormick & Co. and Tyson Foods, will replace Mark Schiller. He will become a non-executive director on the company’s board and will serve as an “ongoing resource” to Davidson. The CEO transition sent Hain’s stock plunging in midday trading, with its share down nearly 10%. Davidson’s selection to the top post at the organic and natural food maker comes as the firm deals with outside challenges, including inflation, and internal questions over what to do with its non-core personal care products business.
Nestlé has spun off its Freshly meal-kit e-commerce delivery business into a joint venture with private-equity firm L Catterton. In a newly formed “partnership” with Connecticut-headquartered L Catterton, the tie-up also incorporates the investor’s Kettle Cuisine-owned business, a Massachusetts-based supplier of soups, sauces and side dishes to the retail and out-of-home channels. In a brief statement, Nestlé said it will hold a minority stake in the venture, which “will focus on offering a wide assortment of fresh food products to customers across geographies and a variety of channels”. No other commentary or background details were provided. Nestlé first invested in New York-based Freshly in 2017 with a 16% interest before purchasing the remainder of the direct-to-consumer subscription business in 2020 for US$950m.
Plant-based meal replacement company Huel closed a $24 million investment round led by previous investor Highland Europe. Actor Idris Elba and his wife Sabrina, as well as British TV host Jonathan Ross and CEO of activewear brand TALA Grace Beverley, also participated. Huel plans to use the funds to continue innovation and further its expansion into the United States — the U.K.-based brand’s second largest market — and other countries. The investment boosts Huel’s total valuation to $560 million. The funding comes as consumers are turning to Huel and similar brands for convenient, high-nutrition meal solutions, seeing them more as options for regular people.
Grocery & Restaurants
The CEOs of Kroger and Albertsons defended their proposed merger as a potential catalyst for building a more competitive company at a Senate subcommittee hearing on Tuesday. In an hours-long questioning that became contentious at times, senators grilled the executives about the potential of the merger to result in higher prices for consumers and lost jobs for workers, the competition that the new company would face from alternative formats, and the combined buying power that the companies would have compared with smaller retailers, among other issues. The food retailing market today provides consumers with “endless opportunities and options of where and how to shop,” said Rodney McMullen, chairman and CEO of Kroger. “This merger will allow us to compete even more.” Although he argued that consumers are able to choose between options such as Walmart, Amazon, Costco and other retailers, Sumit Sharma, senior researcher, technology competition, Consumer Reports, testified that the universe of competitors for antitrust purposes should be limited to retailers that exert direct competitive constraints on Kroger and Albertsons—namely, other similar supermarkets. “I think we have empirical evidence that retail mergers will lead to increased prices,” he said. “Kroger and Albertsons claim this merger will help the consumer. We disagree.”
Kroger saw its sales surge in its fiscal third quarter, driven by same-store sales gains of 6.9% vs. a year ago, excluding fuel, and double-digit increases in both private label and digital sales. Consumers are apparently cutting back on spending in areas other than groceries, the company said, although they are aggressively seeking deals in the form of promotions and private label alternatives. The results prompted the company to raise its sales outlook for the year. It now expects same-store sales, excluding fuel, to be up in the range of 5.1% to 5.3% for the full fiscal year, and net earnings per diluted share to be in the range of $4.05 to $4.15. The company previously had projected same-store sales gains of 4% to 4.5% for the year, and adjusted net earnings per diluted share of $3.95 to $4.05. “Kroger’s value proposition, which includes providing great quality, fresh products at affordable prices, data-driven promotions, trusted Our Brands products and an industry-leading fuel rewards program, is resonating with shoppers and driving increased customer loyalty,” said Rodney McMullen, chairman and CEO. The company said it was making “early progress” on its integration planning related to its pending merger with Albertsons Cos., but declined to take questions from analysts on the topic.
Home & Road
In Natuzzi‘s third quarter results for the period ending Sept. 30, sales increased 14.5% over the same period in 2021. Despite that growth, the company noted that the sluggish U.S. market dampened new orders. “Traffic in our stores has been decreasing since April, and our retail partners, most notably in U.S., are still dealing with the extra stock they have built over the past months, which limits their ability to place new orders,” said Antonio Achille, CEO of Natuzzi Group. The company also indicated that China’s zero COVID policy continues to be the main obstacle for Natuzzi’s growth plan for the region.
Natuzzi noted the cost of energy to run industrial operations has increased by €2.8 million compared to the first nine months of 2021, mainly concentrated in European factories. The cost of some raw materials, especially those that are energy-intensive, such as iron components and mechanisms, or wood, as well as oil-related products, such as polyurethane, still remains at high levels. However, the company has experienced a decline in leather costs.
La-Z-Boy Inc. reported record-setting second-quarter results for the period ending Oct. 29. The company’s consolidated sales increased 6% to $611 million, a second quarter record and retail segment sales increased 31% to $252 million that was an all-time quarterly record. However, the company cautioned that despite these rosy figures, the company faces headwinds with the economy and braced investors for a decline in the third quarter. Citing macroeconomic and geopolitical factors, the company noted that the pace of written sales is slowing. In order to counter this decline, the company is managing its cost structure relative to demand for products. “As we successfully reduce our backlog to enable pre-pandemic consumer lead times, we expect the second half of our fiscal year to be impacted by continued external headwinds on consumer demand,” said Bob Lucian, CFO of La-Z-Boy.
Jewelry & Luxury
Intermix, the multi-brand retailer that trades primarily in contemporary and entry level-designer fashion, is changing hands once again after being sold by Gap Inc., to private equity firm Altamont Capital Partners in 2021. The new buyer is Regent, another private equity firm, but one that specializes in retail, with investments including Club Monaco, Escada, La Senza and Sassoon. WWD first reported the news, which has been confirmed by BoF. The terms of the deal were not disclosed. On Wednesday, a large percentage of the Intermix staff was furloughed, according to one employee, while others were terminated.
Inflation is a worldwide phenomenon that is having an impact on fashion consumers. While ultra-luxury labels continue to grow, the premium fashion market could be negatively affected by consumer choices, according to Retviews, the data analysis solution devised by digital consulting firm Lectra. A Retviews study has notably highlighted the strategies adopted by premium US labels with regards to pricing and promotions. Combining data from Michael Kors, Coach, Tory Burch and Kate Spade, the study showed that prices in the premium end of the market have increased the most in the USA, where they grew 36% in one year, compared to the 26% rise recorded in the UK and the 20% one observed in Europe.
LVMH has scooped up a jewelry manufacturer, adding to its growing portfolio and bolstering production capabilities in its watch and jewelry division. The company acquired Pedemonte Group, a jewelry producer operating in Italy and France, for an undisclosed amount from the Equinox III SLP SIF investment fund. “With this strategic acquisition for our maisons, the LVMH Group further strengthens its presence in Italy while continuing to support the ecosystem of companies that contribute to the success of our maisons,” said Toni Belloni, deputy managing director of LVMH. “With Pedemonte, our maisons will gain a partner recognized for its know-how to support their growth and maintain their leadership in jewelry.” Pedemonte Group has 350 employees, who will remain with the company, as will its current management team.
Office & Leisure
Petco on Wednesday reported third-quarter net revenues increased 4% year over year to $1.5 billion. Comparable sales grew 4.1% from last year, beating Wedbush (3.4%) and consensus (3.5%) estimates and marking the 16th consecutive quarter of comp sales growth. The pet retailer’s net income fell 61% to $19.9 million from $51.5 million last year, which it attributed in part to a $19.2 million non-cash charge in the fair value of one of its investments. The company added 325,000 net new customers during the period pushing its total active customer base to 25 million. As consumers pull back on discretionary spending in the face of inflation and other economic pressures, Petco is leaning into its health offerings and services. While the pet category as a whole has historically been more resilient to economic headwinds, bolstering its services can better position Petco as consumers continue to tighten their budgets.
While the toy industry has become less dependent on the fourth quarter over the past decade, the holiday season still is the main event. Over 300 toys have been picked as hot holiday toys by the leading toy retailers, according to an analysis published by consulting firm Global Toy Experts. But starting this week, shoppers which have the main vote on which toys are hot, or not. After two pandemic Christmases and supply chain shortages that pushed parents to shop earlier, and to shop online, this year is feeling more like the old days, when the winners and losers of the toy world will be decided in the final weeks of December.
Technology & Internet
When Amazon first entered the entertainment space with its Prime Video division, the company said that it was all about retail. Customers would come for movies and TV shows, but stick around and buy other goods on the platform. Speaking at The New York Times Dealbook Summit Wednesday, Amazon CEO Andy Jassy said that entertainment still serves that role, but he has also come to think that it can also be more than just an asset to boost subscriptions or shoe sales. “I do think over time we have opportunities to make our Prime Video business a standalone business with very attractive economics,” Jassy said. Jassy laid out a vision where Amazon becomes the center of the entertainment universe, where it produces its own programming but also gives access to every other provider through its Channels program. “Customers would like to go to a place and find everything they want, they don’t want to go to 5 or 6 different places,” he said. For now, however, Jassy told interviewer Andrew Ross Sorkin that Prime Video continues to work as a driver for both ecommerce and Prime subscriptions.
Apple CEO Tim Cook hasn’t been shy about his criticism of Facebook. Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg is perfectly willing to return the favor. Speaking at The New York Times DealBook summit on Wednesday, Zuckerberg had harsh words for Apple, the most valuable American company, and the way the iPhone maker exerts control over its App Store. “Apple has sort of singled themselves out as the only company that is trying to control unilaterally what apps get on a device,” Zuckerberg said. “I don’t think that’s a sustainable or good place to be.” Zuckerberg made a contrast between Apple and Google. The latter lets users download apps to their Android smartphones without relying on only the Google Play store. Meta’s online ad business has been badly wounded this year by Apple’s policies regarding third-party tracking. Apple’s 2021 iOS privacy update makes it much harder for Facebook and other ad-supported apps to target users with advertisements. Zuckerberg said on Wednesday that “there is a conflict of interest” with companies that “deliver their apps exclusively through platforms that are controlled by competitors.” The platform operators, Zuckerberg said, are not neutral actors but also have a lot of their own “strategic interests.”
Finance & Economy
US consumer confidence fell in November as inflation and economic uncertainty continued to loom large and potentially dampen holiday shopping plans. The Conference Board’s consumer confidence index measured 100.2 for the month, lower than the downwardly revised 102.2 in October. The index is at its lowest level since July, when it fell to 95.7 amid spiking gas prices and worsening inflation. A reading above 100 indicates an optimistic attitude toward the economy and higher propensity to spend. Consumer spending is a major driver of the economy, and the last two months of the year can account for about 20% of total retail sales and even more for some retailers, according to the National Retail Federation. The NRF projects that holiday sales could grow in the range of 6% to 8% to as high as $960.4 billion. In 2021, holiday sales were $889.3 billion.
Americans dished out for toys, televisions and clothing on Black Friday and into the holiday weekend, despite decades-high inflation and a potential recession looming in 2023. The National Retail Federation, a trade group for the retail industry, said a record 196 million Americans shopped in stores and online over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, a 10% increase from last year. Shoppers returned to physical stores on Black Friday after avoiding much of in-person shopping the last two holidays due to Covid-19 concerns. Mastercard said in-store sales increased 12% on Black Friday from last year.