Weak mall traffic, changing spending patterns and looming store closures.
Despite early sales reports pointing to a solid holiday season, many of the specialty apparel chains that presented at this week's ICR Conference in Orlando, Florida, spoke to the difficulties they encountered during the critical shopping period — with most taking a measured approach to 2017.
"It certainly seemed to be a somewhat more challenging [macroeconomic] environment," L Brands' CFO Stuart Burgdoerfer told analysts during a presentation Wednesday.
"It's a very tough environment out there," echoed Sandeep Reddy, CFO of the global fashion brand Guess, during his firm's session.
"The highs are higher and the lows are lower," said Frank Conforti, CFO at Urban Outfitters, speaking to the exaggerated cadence of consumer spending throughout the season.
The executives' comments came amid a slew of sales holiday sales reports that highlighted just how tough things are for legacy apparel retailers. Same-store sales at Ann Taylor parent Ascena Retail dropped 3.1 percent, forcing the company to run unplanned promotions to clear through its inventory. Though Urban Outfitters' comparable sales were roughly in line, it too was pushed into heavier-than-anticipated promotions.
Even L Brands posted a rare same-store sales decline in December, as the Victoria's Secret label continued to work through an overhaul of its promotional and merchandising strategies. Headwinds will remain in the first half of 2017, as Victoria's Secret grapples with sales lost from its discontinuation of swimwear and most apparel categories.