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2020: Q4 Quarterly Index
The apparel sector has been among the more interesting to watch. COVID has clearly had a huge impact on the sector, but the wide variety of different types of apparel retailers have felt the effects of the pandemic very differently. And this not only changes the way we view their 2020 performance, but their respective roads to recovery in 2021.
Analyzing dozens of brands including:
Visits Still Down
While Q4 marked a step forward for the wider apparel space with visits down 24.9% – an improvement on Q3 when visits were down 27.6% – that momentum was clearly affected by a surge of COVID cases. While many of the brands analyzed had seen stronger recovery paces heading into the holiday season, the rise in cases ahead of Black Friday limited the return to normalcy.
Visit Durations Returning - But Is It Enough?
Like other sectors, apparel players were hoping to see some of the visit declines offset by longer visit durations. And there was a substantial decline in the size of the visit gap in Q4 from 8% in Q3 to just 5%. However, it is unlikely that this will be enough to overcome the wide visit gaps that many brands experienced. Instead, several sub-sectors still look to be very dependent on a return to retail normalcy.
The apparel space is anything but homogenous, and this was borne out by the visit metrics. Visits to department store brands like JCPenney and Macy’s were down 44.0% and 39.0% respectively in Q4 year over year, while off-price leader T.J. Maxx saw visits down just 10.5% in the quarter. The alignment of these different sub-categories speaks to the different recovery paths these brands will face.
Diving deeper into the visit gaps also exposes a critical element to the varied results – weekend visits. For brands like JCPenney and Macy’s, the weekend visit gap was as high as 43% year over year in Q4. This is because department and retail brands oriented to malls are far more reliant on the full weekend mall visit as opposed to the relatively quick stop at a department store brand situated at an outdoor center. And this is a critical silver lining as it suggests many of these retail brands could bounce back quickly as top tier malls return to prominence.
The apparel sector was hit especially hard by the pandemic, but the nuances of different performances across sub-sectors is important. Off-price and outdoor department stores saw much more limited declines than mall-based players or department brands. And while this advantage should still give the former group a boost in early 2021, the recovery of malls later in the year could lead to a needed surge for some of the hardest hit retail brands.
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