The days become shorter and cooler in October, the leaves start to fall off the trees, and catalog sales start to pick up in anticipation of the holidays. At least that’s what catalogers hope for. But this year several publicly traded catalogers reported disappointing October sales.
To quote Burton M. Tansky, president/CEO of Dallas-based cataloger/retailer Neiman Marcus (NYSE: NMG.A), “During October, we experienced strong demand for several of our key merchandise categories. However, in total, sales results were lower than expected.” October revenue within the upscale marketer’s NM Direct division, which includes the Horchow, Neiman Marcus, and Chef’s Catalog titles, was down 4% from last year.
There was a mitigating factor, though: NM Direct’s results reflected quarterly adjustments for sales returns and the deferral of revenue for merchandise shipped but not yet received. Excluding these adjustments, comparable revenue at NM Direct actually increased nearly 9%. Total revenue at Neiman Marcus increased 3%, to $246 million from $239 million last year.
Neiman Marcus’s disappointments don’t amount to a hill of bean compared to the sales declines at Downers Grove, IL-based Spiegel Group (OTC: SPGLA). October direct sales declined 29%, while combined catalog and retail revenue fell 21%, to $171.9 million for the four weeks ended Oct. 26. The company attributes much of the sales decline to a reduction in catalog pages circulated for its Newport News women’s apparel book and general merchandise Spiegel Catalog. Then too, the company has implemented more-stringent credit-card requirements in response to unsatisfactorily high defaults within Spiegel’s private-label credit-card business. Breaking it down by division, sales at apparel and home goods cataloger/retailer Eddie Bauer fell 9%, sales for Newport News tumbled 25%, and sales for Spiegel Catalog dropped 42%.
Catalog sales at another general merchandise cataloger/retailer, Plano, TX-based J.C. Penney Corp. (NYSE: JCP), decreased 22%, to $237 million for the four weeks ended Oct. 26. But Penney said the decline was in line with projections and resulted from undisclosed circulation cuts. Total October sales for Penney were up 5%, to $2.5 billion. Comparable department store sales increased 14%, significantly above plan, which the company credits to planned marketing events and seasonal weather that encouraged shopping.
New York-based apparel cataloger/retailer J. Crew reported an 11% rise in October sales, to $71.1 million for the four weeks ended Nov. 2. Furthermore, Internet sales rose 19%, to $13.4 million from $11.2 million the previous October. Even comparable store sales rose, by nearly 1%. But catalog sales fell 18%, to $9.4 million from $11.5 last year.
Finally, San Francisco-based cataloger/retailer The Sharper Image (Nasdaq: SHRP) posted double-digit revenue gains for all of its sales channels. For the four weeks ended Oct. 31, catalog sales were $12.1 million, up 22% from last October’s $9.9 million. Internet sales increased 42%, to $5.3 million from $3.7 million last year. Total store sales increased 35%, to $20.0 million; comparable store sales increased 23%. Total company sales for October increased 32%, to $37.3 million.