Slow growth for Victoria’s Secret parent

Victoria’s Secret parent L-Brands has kicked off its new fiscal year with a reasonable set of numbers.

However there is a distinct softness to the total growth rate which is significantly down on the last quarter even against a fairly reasonable prior year comparative. Same store sales growth has also halved since the end of the last fiscal year.

More worrying is net income, which fell by 39 per cent over the prior year. Although the bulk of this decline is related to the one-off gain from last year when the company sold its interest in a third-party apparel sourcing business, a decline in operating income also contributed to the fall. In essence, cost growth outstripped sales growth during the first quarter.

The reason for the softness is mostly down to a weaker, though still positive, performance at Victoria’s Secret. Here comparable sales increased by just 2 per cent – an uncharacteristically slow pace, and one significantly down on the 5 per cent attained last quarter. Despite the net addition of a handful of new stores over the past year, total growth from shops was virtually flat, with a comparatively subdued rise of 1 per cent in same store sales. Performance at the direct part of the operation was only somewhat better with a  2 per cent uplift in sales.

There are a few reasons for the downtick in growth at Victoria’s Secret. The first was an aggressively promotional market, against which despite its usually loyal customers Victoria’s Secret had to work hard to compete. The second was a somewhat less interesting product assortment which, while still reasonable, did not have hits like last year’s Bombshell bra. And the third was a weaker performance from non-core categories like swimwear, which the company has indicated it will cease selling by the year end. Combined, these things helped to erode growth.

As genuine as these excuses are, there is also a question mark over whether the brand is reaching saturation point, especially within a market that has become more competitive with nimble players like American Eagle Outfitters’ Aerie. Victoria’s Secret still has headroom for growth, but there is no doubt that it is now having to work a lot harder to secure it. Key to achieving better numbers will be a very disciplined approach to categories outside of lingerie – an area where the company has struggled with both apparel and more recently swimwear. By getting rid of these failing areas, a focus on the more logically adjacent activewear category holds better potential.

Performance at L-Brands’ other main division, Bath & Body Works, was robust with comparable sales up by 6 per cent. Bath & Body Works success is down to a consistently strong product offering, good gifting ideas which boosted performance over Easter, accessible price points, and friendly store environments with good service levels. All of these ‘ticked boxes’ helped the company to do well, in a competitive environment.

  • Carter Harrison is a retail analyst at Conlumino.


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