Nordstrom fared better than its fellow fashion retailers in its first-quarter earnings, but not thanks to its full-line mall stores. .
If this were your grandmother’s Nordstrom, it wouldn’t be faring quite so well amid a stew of grim earnings reports from fashion retailers Thursday.
On a day that saw some retailers’ share prices nosedive up to 18 percent, Nordstrom’s tumble — 7.6 percent even before its quarterly results were announced, and another 4 percent after — was dismal but not dire.
That’s not thanks to its large, luxurious mall stores. It’s due to the Seattle retailer’s early move into online, as well as its merchandising and inventory control.
Nordstrom is “light years ahead” of most department stores, though it “isn’t immune from the wider pressures on fashion,” said Neil Saunders, managing director at GlobalData Retail.
“There are too many retailers offering too many similar products to a consumer who already owns lots of clothing and is a little bored of shopping for it. This oversupply leads to discounting, which erodes margins and deters shoppers from buying at full price.”
But, so far at least, Nordstrom’s “actions have allowed it to outperform rivals,” Saunders said.
Nordstrom’s top and bottom line met or exceeded Wall Street analysts’ expectations. But it saw weaker-than-expected same-store sales, especially in its full-line stores, which continued a streak of sales declines.
Brick and mortar dragging
Nordstrom’s $3.35 billion sales for the quarter ended April 29 met Wall Street analysts’ expectations.
And its earnings per share of 37 cents — or 43 cents excluding certain one-time items — handily beat Wall Street’s forecast of 27 cents.
But the results were weighed down by the fact that comparable or same-store sales — a key metric that tracks sales growth at stores open at least a year — declined 0.8 percent overall.
The company’s brick-and-mortar full-line U.S. stores fared worst, with a 6.4 percent drop, marking the seventh quarter in a row that Nordstrom’s full-line stores have shown year-over-year comparable sales declines.
At Nordstrom Rack, the company’s off-price store, comparable sales decreased a smaller 0.9 percent. Still, Nordstrom executives had expected flat comp sales rather than a decline.
“Up until now, Rack has been the engine of the Nordstrom business, helping the company to offset some of the deterioration of the full-price operation,” Carter Harrison, another analyst with GlobalData Retail, wrote in an email. “Today’s figures raise the question of how long this engine will continue to run.”
The company’s online sales were more robust, with sales at Nordstrom.com up 10.9 percent, and those at Nordstromrack.com/HauteLook up 19.1 percent.
Indeed, Nordstrom executives in a conference call with Wall Street analysts after the release of the earnings report, made the case that it no longer makes sense to judge the performance of the company by walled “silos” such as full-line stores versus online.
Rather, they said, they were looking at their business in a way that more fluidly integrates online and in-store sales. They’re seeing the company in terms of the Nordstrom brand (including its physical full-line stores and Nordstrom.com), and the Nordstrom Rack brand (including the Rack stores and Nordstromrack.com/HauteLook).
“Our business looks very different today,” Blake Nordstrom, co-president, said during the earnings call.
About a quarter of the company’s sales — 23 percent — comes from online now, versus 6 percent in 2006. And mobile accounts for half of its online traffic, Nordstrom said.
Better at e-commerce
The company got an earlier start than most of its peers in the shift to online, investing heavily in tech infrastructure. That has meant heavy spending, but the investments have started to pay off. Last quarter, the company said its online sales were starting to have higher profit margins than its in-store sales.
“Nordstrom’s online operation is quite some way ahead of other department stores, both in terms of its ability to drive sales, and the way in which it is integrated into the business,” said Saunders, of GlobalData.
The company has recognized “that it must serve customers wherever they want to be served,” and has developed systems “to connect online and physical shops, including pickup in store, reserve and try in store, visual searching and curbside pickup,” he said.
Saunders says those efforts have “helped Nordstrom to take a lead in e-commerce among department stores.”
Indeed, with 23 percent of its sales online, Nordstrom is well ahead of Macy’s 15.4 percent, Kohl’s 13.6 percent, and JCPenney’s 12.4 percent, according to GlobalData figures.
That also translates into how Nordstrom looks at whether to close underperforming stores, which it has done here and there over the years.
Some of Nordstrom’s competitors, including Macy’s and JCPenney, have closed dozens of stores recently.
Nordstrom doesn’t look at just the sales volume of any given store, but also how that store might drive online sales and vice versa.
The “digital experience and physical-stores experiences will influence how we regard the store, as opposed to just looking at the four-wall contributions of that one store,” said Erik Nordstrom, co-president.
Nordstrom shares fell 7.6 percent Thursday before the earnings announcement due to other retailers’ downbeat reports.
After releasing its earnings, Nordstrom saw its shares fall about 4 percent more in after-hours trading.
Macy’s shares plunged some 17 percent Thursday after the company reported that overall sales had dropped 7.5 percent since a year ago, while sales at stores open at least a year fell 5.2 percent. Both its sales and profits failed to meet analysts’ forecasts.
Kohl’s shares fell about 8 percent after the company reported overall sales that dropped 3.9 percent, and comparable sales that dipped 2.7 percent. Kohl’s profits did top Wall Street estimates, however.
Dillard’s shares tumbled nearly 18 percent after it posted a sales decline of nearly 6 percent, and a comparable sales drop of 4 percent. Its profits did beat Wall Street expectations.