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Holidays so far: Lululemon, Costco see Black Friday records

Here's a look at what retailers are saying about a longer holiday season, and the highly promotional environment.

lululemon Robson Street Store #1
Photo by Marco Tjokro on Unsplash

In the midst of a holiday season where forecasts are typically coming with the words “conservative” and “uncertainty” attached, Lululemon had more positive color for its initial results.

“Black Friday was the biggest day ever in our history in terms of revenue and traffic driven by our results in both North America and around the world, with guests responding well to the innovation we offer across our product assortment,” Lululemon CEO Calvin McDonald told analysts on the company’s third quarter earnings call. “We also recognize that the external environment remains challenging with several high-volume weeks still in front of us. That being said, I'm encouraged with the beginning of our holiday season and I am confident in how our brand is positioned in the near and long term.”

The Black Friday record followed a third quarter in which Lululemon posted strong results:

  • Net revenue increased 28% over Q3 2021.
  • Total comparable store sales increased 22% year-over-year.
  • Direct-to-consumer revenue increased 31% year-over-year, representing 41% of net revenue.

To be sure, Lululemon is facing the same headwinds from inflation and interest rates as others. The company’s forecast for the overall holiday quarter was lower than Wall Street expected and its gross margins are proving to be tough to maintain at a time of inflation. This sent its stock price down about 12% on Friday morning, according to Yahoo Finance.

Yet the performance in Q3 and the opening to the holiday suggests that the company is able to deliver solid results at a time when many specialized retailers are seeing consumers pull back from discretionary spending and seek out deals in a highly promotional environment.

McDonald summed up the reasons for the strong showing this way: “Great products, regular price is still selling, driven off of the uniqueness of the overall brand and position in the market.”

Yet it’s also worth paying attention to how the brand operates across its stores and ecommerce operations.

“In my opinion, the brand’s ongoing investments in omnichannel capabilities are a key factor here,” said Rick Berger, president of omnichannel shopping platform NewStore, in a statement. “By offering features like buy online pick up in-store [BOPIS], making inventory information available online, and offering in-store shopping appointments, Lululemon has set itself apart, allowing its customers to buy products, when, where and how they want.”

Despite how often they are talked about in retail circles, these elements of the shopping experience that cross physical and digital channels have yet to achieve wide adoption across retail. NewStore’s research shows that 54% of brands provide BOPIS, while fewer still provide real-time inventory visibility (31%) or one-on-one appointments (25%).

“If Lululemon continues to double down on omnichannel experiences for its shoppers, the company is in a great position to close out the year and hit its Q4 goals,” said Berger.

Here’s a look at perspective that other retail executives shared in this week’s earnings calls about trending holiday shopping topics:

More Black Friday records

Costco CFO Richard Galanti said Black Friday and Cyber Monday were the two largest ecommerce selling days in the wholesale company’s history. This, despite ecommerce sales of consumer electronics and appliances being down in the “high single digits” for Q3.

Holiday deals

With higher prices for gas and food amid inflation, consumers are on the lookout for deals. This was forecast to have an impact on the holidays, and observations from executives like Vera Bradley CEO Robert Wallstrom are baring it out.

“We saw weakness in October, and as we got towards Black Friday, we saw the consumer begin to pick up during Black Friday and that momentum has continued past Black Friday,” said Wallstrom. “What we have definitely seen, though, is the importance of promotional activity as part of that stimulation, that the consumer definitely is looking for the deal, is kind of returning to that historical Black Friday mentality.”

Many retailers are calling the holiday season highly promotional, but that’s not necessarily true across categories, said Sumit Singh, CEO of pet product ecommerce service Chewy.

“Compared to Q3, the promotional environment is elevated in Q4. This is the normal seasonal pattern we see every year heading into the holidays,” Singh said. “But within the context of Q4 itself, we believe the promotional environment remains rational and more or less in line with what we have seen in previous holiday periods.”

Impact of early holiday events

Larger retailers sought to get the holidays off to a big start with deal events in October. This also had the effect of introducing deals into the marketplace earlier in the season, which has impact on the specialty retailers in ecommerce that typically stick to full-price, said Elizabeth Spaulding, CEO of styling service Stitch Fix.

“In fiscal Q1, the retail industry experienced a meaningful pull forward of the holiday promotional environment, which continues to be more pronounced than expected due to weak consumer sentiment and excess inventories,” Spaulding said. “We believe this resulted in lower client spending and also had a large impact on our net active clients, which declined 11% year over year.”

Stitch Fix is experimenting with limited-time promotions as it seeks to move inventory and lift slumping sales. It is seeing a “halo effect” for full-price merchandise by taking this approach, Spaulding said. But it must weigh how making items available at a lower price impacts the brand.

“We had our first Black Friday-Cyber Monday event, which we saw good lift in terms of what we were able to offer our clients in that window,” Spaulding said. “But I think we really want to strike a good balance of being levant in those seasonal time periods, but ultimately do what we do best, which is differentiating based on style, discovery, fit.”

A late finish

While early deals and big cyber weekend events are shaping the season so far, there could still be a strong finish for the taking, as well. When people are stretching their wallets and holding out for deals, last-minute shopping could be even more active than usual. Signet Jewelers is seeing both sides, said CEO Gina Drosos.

On Black Friday-Cyber Monday, “We saw omni traffic up double digits, so a lot of people in stores but a lot of people online. And we saw our online revenue up mid single digits, so that was great that we see people buying at the time,” Drosos said. “But a lot of people, we see browsing, and they'll be waiting, we think, until later in the season, making sure they get the very best value that they can.”

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