Kate Spade figures reveal slowing growth

While the latest Kate Spade figures are respectable, there is a clear slowdown in the pace of growth compared to last quarter.

This is most noticeable in the direct-to-consumer segment, where comparable revenue rose by a fairly meagre 4 per cent, compared to the 19 per cent uplift posted during the first quarter. Although it is not unreasonable to expect growth to moderate from its heady pace, the expectation of Kate Spade’s management team was that this would not happen quite so soon.

It is notable that the slowdown is mostly confined to North America, with international sales growth advancing steadily from last quarter’s 3.2 per cent growth rate. Kate Spade has suggested that much of this is tourist related with reduced international visitor footfall at key stores in New York, and lower spending from those that do visit thanks to the strong dollar.

There is some truth in this, but it does not completely explain away the very slim growth rate in the direct segment – which is now running at just 1 per cent on a comparable basis once eCommerce has been excluded.

There are three other factors at play which negatively affected growth.

The first of these is the comeback of competitors like Coach, which thanks to brand repositioning and lower discounting are now attracting more customers. While there is only a partial overlap between Coach and Kate Spade, Conlumino customer data suggests that shopper sharing between the two brands has increased over recent months.

The second factor is an increase in consumer uncertainty, especially among younger female shoppers. Such softness in Kate Spade’s target market likely reduced both the volume and value of purchasing over the period. This had a slight knock-on effect in terms of discounting which affected margins over the quarter.

Thirdly, although Kate Spade’s marketing is still achieving cut through with campaigns like Miss Adventure, the impact seemed to weaken over the summer. This likely had a negative impact in terms of visiting and purchasing.

Given that all of these trends are things that will not suddenly disappear, the danger for Kate Spade is that it is now entering a period of weaker sales growth: something it has reflected in its guidance. That said, slower sales uplifts are not necessarily indicative of a group in trouble. Indeed, Kate Spade will still grow and will do so at a pace that is above overall market growth. It will also continue to deliver healthy profits, which at net income level are running at $38 million in the year to date, compared to a loss of $47 million over the same period last year.

Kate Spade is still a company moving forward – even if it now does so with slightly less momentum.

  • Neil Saunders is, CEO of retail analyst Conlumino.

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