Clothing Retailers Boost Profit Margins by Offering Fewer Markdowns

Clothes retailers are enhancing their revenue margins by keeping their inventory low and providing fewer end-of-season markdowns, after being caught early on within the pandemic with attire they struggled to promote.

Finance chiefs at firms together with

Gap Inc.,

Abercrombie & Fitch Co.

and Guess Inc. say they’re intently monitoring stock ranges as they appear to market attire at full worth. Many retailers final yr had been forced to slash prices after lockdown orders and a drop-off in client spending left them with extra inventory on their cabinets.

Throughout the U.S. attire retail sector, earnings earlier than curiosity and taxes as a share of net gross sales, calculated on a 12-month foundation—a metric used to measure profitability—was 8.6% through the quarter ended July 31, up from 6.2% in April and 0.1% in July 2020, in accordance with Swiss financial institution UBS Group AG.

“The previous two quarters have been unprecedented by way of margin growth,” stated Jay Sole, an govt director at UBS who covers the trade.

The concentrate on stock comes as retailers confront ongoing disruptions of their world provide chains, together with congestion at ports and delays at manufacturing services in nations the place coronavirus circumstances are rising. The disruptions are main some finance chiefs to pay up for airfreight to expedite deliveries.

Firms run a danger of not having sufficient stock if customers wish to purchase greater than what’s in inventory. Nevertheless, in accordance with

Scott Lipesky,

Abercrombie’s chief monetary officer, “in the event you miss a sale right here or there, we nonetheless imagine that doing extra with much less is the appropriate technique, as a result of having an excessive amount of stock is the hardest factor in retail.” The corporate’s stock stood at $415.6 million through the quarter ended July 31, down 8% from a yr earlier.


Scott Lipesky, CFO of Abercrombie & Fitch Co.


Abercrombie & Fitch Co.

Abercrombie generated $864.9 million in net gross sales in its newest quarter, up 24% from the prior-year interval because the retailer benefited from an uptick in client demand. The New Albany, Ohio-based firm’s gross margin elevated by 4.5 share factors in contrast with a yr earlier, to 65.2%, which the corporate attributed to fewer promotions.

Retailers that select to promote gadgets at full worth sometimes face strain to point out buyers why their merchandise are well worth the cash, UBS’s Mr. Sole stated. That would imply providing new suits of attire or revamping product advertising and marketing, Mr. Sole stated. He famous that U.S. buyers lately have given precedence to product high quality over promotions.

Guess for the previous yr has labored to enhance its model picture, together with by adjusting its kinds and upgrading its product images, in accordance with CFO Katie Anderson. Product gross sales at Guess rose 57% through the quarter ended July 31 from a yr earlier, to $606.7 million, as demand for gadgets resembling dressier garments and denim elevated, the corporate stated.


Katie Anderson, CFO of Guess Inc.


Dax Henry

“We’ve taken a tough stance that we’re not going to advertise gadgets like we did up to now,” Ms. Anderson stated. The corporate usually elevated its promotions over the previous decade, various by area, she stated. The Los Angeles-based denims maker has raised costs on a few of its merchandise to match these of rivals, although Ms. Anderson declined to say how a lot or on which merchandise.

Guess is making an attempt to make its clients purchase an merchandise once they see it, she stated. “We don’t wish to have our clients assume that, ‘OK, if I simply wait a month, then I’ll get this on sale,’” Ms. Anderson stated. The corporate’s gross margin elevated by about 8 share factors from 2019, which it makes use of as a pre-pandemic reference level, to 46.8%.

Analysts say it’s unclear how lengthy the rise in retailers’ revenue margins will final. For some firms, the pandemic was a reckoning second that led them to make everlasting adjustments to their inventory-ordering and -management processes, in accordance with Janine Stichter, a senior vp of fairness analysis with funding agency

Jefferies Financial Group Inc.

Others might have been much less intentional about holding low ranges of inventory available, and have benefited from the worldwide transport backlogs, that are anticipated to be momentary, she stated.


Katrina O’Connell, CFO of Hole Inc.


Hole Inc.

Hole, which operates manufacturers together with Outdated Navy, Banana Republic, Hole and Athleta, is utilizing synthetic intelligence and machine studying instruments to raised allocate its stock, CFO

Katrina O’Connell

stated. The purpose of the brand new expertise, which shall be initially deployed by Outdated Navy within the coming weeks, is to “purchase much less total however to be smarter about which stock we put into which retailer,” Ms. O’Connell stated.

The instruments will assist Hole predict demand for kinds, colours and sizes in addition to permit the corporate to enhance its forecasting forward of and through seasons, relying on buyer habits. Hole additionally plans to make use of the expertise to make suggestions in regards to the quantity and kind of merchandise that a person retailer ought to show and think about components such because the climate to anticipate client wants.

The retailer, which has been working to convey down its inventories since October 2020, within the quarter ended July 31 continued to scale back promotions and supply extra selective reductions, together with to clients who join its loyalty program. The corporate’s gross margin elevated by 4.4 share factors from the second quarter of 2019, to 43.3%, partly attributable to fewer promotions.

Write to Kristin Broughton at and Nina Trentmann at

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