The Covid-19 pandemic caused sales to slump at retail giants Inditex and Hennes & Mauritz (H&M) in November, reversing glimmers of a recovery and shining a light on the very different online sales performance between the two companies.
Shares in both companies fell in European trading, with Inditex, which owns Zara, trading near 2% lower and H&M dropping more than 2% on Tuesday.
The back story. As global coronavirus infection rates slowed through the summer and government restrictions were loosened, shoppers flocked back to stores after months of retail closures. Both Spanish Inditex and Swedish H&M—the largest and second-largest fashion chains in the world, respectively—returned to profitability in the autumn after large losses.
With the Covid-19 pandemic keeping millions of shoppers housebound, Inditex has made a key investment in expanding online shopping. In June, the company announced a €2.7 billion ($4.34 billion) investment plan to improve online operations and increase store footprint, of which €1 billion was earmarked for digital investments.
H&M, still controlled by its founding Persson family, was already struggling before the pandemic hit. The company has been slower to shift to online shopping in favour of its more than 5,000 stores and the low-cost fashion strategy it helped pioneer.
What’s new. Both companies reported results on Tuesday—Inditex for the three months to the end of October, and H&M for the quarter ending Nov. 30 as well as the full year.
Store and online sales grew slowly from August to October at Inditex, with October sales at 94% of 2019 levels at constant currencies. In total, net sales of €6.1 billion in the third quarter were 14% lower than the same period in 2019. However, as coronavirus cases surged in November, 21% of stores remained closed and sales fell to 81% of 2019 levels.
At H&M, net sales for the fourth quarter were 10% lower in local currencies from the same period last year. Much of that came in the final month: sales were down by just 3% year-over-year from Sept. 1 to Oct. 21, but were 22% lower than 2019 in the period from Oct. 22 to Nov. 30.
Looking ahead. The results from the retail giants show the impact the second wave of Covid-19 has brought on sales. Fears over how much this hurts the bottom line for the full year is what may have caused both stocks to fall.
But the results also shine a light on the companies’ different online strategies—a crucial sales platform beyond the pandemic. Inditex reported that online sales grew 76% in the nine months to the end of October, while analysts expect H&M to lag far behind. The Swedish retailer didn’t post any fresh online figures on Tuesday. It had posted online sales growth of 40% in the second quarter and just 27% in the third.
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