Abercrombie & Fitch will drop the ax on 60 more U.S. stores this fiscal year as it searches for ways to boost productivity amid ongoing sales declines, including in the holiday quarter.
The closures follow the shuttering of 53 domestic shops last year and will not be the last. Half of the company's 700-plus U.S. leases are up for renewal by the end of fiscal 2018, giving the company flexibility to exit more locations without incurring hefty charges.
"We haven't been shy about [closing stores]," CFO Joanne Crevoiserat told analysts while speaking on the company's earnings call Thursday.
Indeed, Abercrombie & Fitch has closed hundreds of stores over the past five years as it tries to turn around its business. Yet those closures haven't translated into an improvement in sales at surviving locations.
The company's same-store sales fell 5 percent in the fiscal fourth quarter, with particular weakness at its namesake label. While that dip marked a slight improvement from the prior three-month period, trends decelerated from the first half of the year. In theory, a company's comparable sales should improve when it weans weaker locations from its store fleet.
Though closing stores is an effective way to boost a retailer's productivity, there are drawbacks. Abercrombie, like much of the industry, does not recapture many of the sales it gives up when it shutters a location, management said. The company is testing changes to its marketing strategy to minimize those losses.
Abercrombie does have a relative advantage in the amount of business it conducts online. Nearly one-third of its sales are generated online, up from 28 percent last year. The company will watch that growth to determine how many stores it should have in the long term, management said.
"That's really still unfolding," Crevoiserat said, adding that stores remain a "very important part of the story."