Plus, Pier 1 considers bankruptcy, Walgreens had a great Black Friday, ecommerce saves Urban Outfitters' holiday sales and Abercrombie reconsiders its mall locations.

(Bloomberg)—Grim news continues to roll in for mall-based retailers, with several companies reporting declines in a key sales metric over the holiday period despite a broader rise in consumer spending.

Top retail chains in the 2019 Digital Commerce 360 Top 1000 Kohl’s Corp. (No. 24), J.C. Penney Co. Inc. (No. 40) and L Brands Inc. (No. 39), all reported drops in same-store holiday sales, which is a critical measure of retail success. Macy’s Inc. (No. 5) also reported a drop in comparable sales last week and announced it would close 29 stores. Bed Bath & Beyond (No. 68) last week withdrew its financial projections amid weak results and announced plans to close up to 2.1 million square feet of retail, distribution and office space.

The holidays are the most important time of year for most retailers, so hopes for a sustained turnaround in large part hinged on a better performance in the final months of 2019. But deeply ingrained trends—such as digital-savvy shoppers migrating to wherever the discounts are, forcing prices down across the market—are preventing many retailers from regaining their former stature.

The declines at Kohl’s and L Brands in particular were surprising, said Poonam Goyal, an analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence.

“Sales should have been up, but they weren’t and that’s a bit concerning,” Goyal said. “They could have posted better results, and the fact that they didn’t shows the need for them to drive traffic and maybe even shrink their stores into smaller formats. It’s time to do more.”

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The biggest retailers—especially Amazon.com Inc. (No. 1), Walmart Inc. (No. 3) and Target Corp. (No. 16)—have been the biggest beneficiaries of the mall-based troubles.

Here’s a look at some of the details the retailers released on last week:

Kohl’s

Kohl’s reported a same-store sales decline of 0.2% in November and December. The retailer didn’t break out exact ecommerce figures, but CEO Michelle Gass said strength in ecommerce, beauty, footwear and other areas was offset by weakness in women’s apparel, and said the company is working “with speed” to fix the problem.

“Although the sales dip at Kohl’s is only modest, it is disappointing that the company was not able to continue the growth posted during the third quarter,” Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail, said in emailed comments. “This is especially so as the consumer economy was strong over the period, so the flat performance is more reflective of Kohl’s and its strategy rather than of external dynamics.”

L Brands

The owner of Victoria’s Secret also posted negative results, a sign its efforts to shift its marketing approach haven’t been enough. L Brands has struggled to adjust to a broader change in the lingerie business, and has been slow to adopt online initiatives as the retail landscape shifts. It just launched in-store pickups for online orders late last year.

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Total revenue during November and December dropped 3%, with stores sales alone declining 4%. Ecommerce revenue changes was not disclosed.

J.C. Penney

The Dallas-based department store chain, which has been fighting to reverse falling foot traffic and improve its inventory management, reported that same-store sales fell 5.3% in the holiday period when excluding the impact of its exit from the appliance and furniture categories.

J.C. Penney reaffirmed its forecast for a full-year adjusted comparable-store sales decline of 5% to 6%. It did not break out ecommerce earnings.

In other earnings news:

    • Pharmacy chain Walgreens Boots Alliance (No. 43) reported online Black Friday weekend sales rose 45% over the same period last year. Digitally initiated sales, which includes prescriptions sent online in addition to ecommerce sales, grew 9% to $3.70 billion.
    • Apparel retailer Urban Outfitters Inc. (No. 45) increased sales for the November and December by 3%, the retailer reported, but it didn’t give exact figures on ecommerce. That growth was driven by online sales increases but retail store sales fell during the period.
    • Abercrombie & Fitch Co. (No. 72) says it isn’t afraid to leave even the best shopping centers behind as it shrinks its footprint. The teen apparel retailer, which owns Abercrombie and sister brand Hollister, is looking to make many of its existing shops smaller and cut square-footage as shoppers flock online. As of November, Abercrombie and Hollister had 677 stores across the U.S. CEO Fran Horowitz said Monday at the ICR Conference in Orlando that continuing to adjust the stores’ footprint will be her top priority for the company this year.
    • Home goods retailer Pier 1 Imports Inc. (No. 122) is planning to dismiss about 40% of its headquarters staff, roughly 300 people, and is canceling orders as it works to overhaul the troubled business, according to people with knowledge of the matter who spoke with Bloomberg. The retailer has drafted a bankruptcy plan and last month made a presentation to creditors that envisioned a smaller post-bankruptcy company with about $900 million in annual sales.
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