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Express Draws Wall Street's Wrath for Missing Retailers' Rebound

The company's failure to hit expected sales figures underscores how competition has narrowed the room for error among apparel retailers.
Express styles included in its rental service | Source: Courtesy
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  • Bloomberg

COLUMBUS, United States — While most retailers are basking in the glow of a Black Friday weekend that looks to be the most lucrative in recent memory, Express Inc.'s latest earnings report came like a splash of cold water.

Last week, retail analysts reported busy traffic at youth-focused chains such as American Eagle, Anthropologie, Forever 21 and Hollister. Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Morgan Tarrant said the long lines she observed at a New Jersey mall appear to show these brands are well positioned for the holidays. Other Black Friday watchers echoed the sentiment.

Express, on the other hand, reported Thursday that November sales have been “below our expectations.” As a result, chief executive David Kornberg trimmed the company’s guidance “to reflect a more cautious stance given recent unexpected sales trends.”

The retailer now expects fourth-quarter same-store sales, a key metric of retail health, to be down as much as 7 percent, which would be the worst quarterly performance since the three-month period that ended in April of 2017.

The announcement sparked a market rout on Thursday, with Express shares plunging as much as 21 percent, the most intraday in 10 months. Steven Marotta, an analyst with CL King & Associates, noted that the company seemed unable to parlay its solid e-commerce growth into a relative advantage over peers.

“We view the quarterly print and updated guidance as perplexing, frankly,” Marotta wrote in a research note. The company “essentially reported the opposite” of its competition’s positive views of the current quarter.

The divergence underscores how bruising competition has lessened the room for error among apparel retailers. Express, which mainly targets shoppers in their twenties and thirties, has weak brand awareness, far too much product choice and merchandise that’s poorly targeted, said Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail. As a result, it’s failing to keep up with more exciting online competitors like Asos, Missguided and Boohoo, he said.

“In a very crowded market, it really doesn’t stand out or offer anything compelling that draws customers in,” Saunders said via email. “All of this underlines the fact that even in a strong market, retailers that don’t understand customers or offer what they want will be punished.”

By Hema Parmar and Jonathan Roeder; editors: Anne Riley Moffat, Jonathan Roeder and Timothy Annett.

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