The future of J.Crew, L Brands, Gap and more show the effects of 2020 so far

A look at the top premium apparel retailers from NRF’s 2020 Top Retailers list

The National Retail Federation’s annual report on the Top 100 Retailers is based on sales for the most recently completed fiscal year. The Power Player charts look at retailers with 2019 U.S. sales equal to or greater than 10 percent of sales of the category leader.

Havoc has come to the apparel industry, much of it precipitated by retailers feeling their way out of the coronavirus crisis and what it bodes for the future of selling clothes. When most stores were closed during the pandemic, retailers were still selling apparel online, often at huge discounts.

“It’s Black Friday in April,” said Prashant Agrawal, CEO of Impact Analytics. The firm compared garment prices online in April with those of the post-Thanksgiving period in 2019: Prices this spring matched, or were lower than, those during last year’s Black Friday promotions.

NRF 2020 Top 100 Retailers

View the complete NRF 2020 Top 100 Retailers list.

Heaps of unsold apparel motivated the retailers. “This is not like wine that gets better with age,” said Manny Chirico, CEO of Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger parent PVH Corp. “Your inventory gets worse.”

This power player grouping is showing the effects of what has transpired thus far in 2020. J.Crew Group has filed for bankruptcy. L Brands’ attempts to stabilize included selling the Victoria’s Secret chain to private equity investors. That blew up when the lingerie chain was forced to close stores during the pandemic and the deal was eventually called off. Founder and longtime chairman Leslie Wexner turned the challenge over to his successor as he left the company at that time.

American Eagle Outfitters and Gap were also slumping early in the year, though AEO had its hot Aerie chain to lean on when reopenings began. Gap, on the other hand, used up half the cash it had during store closures and was forced to raise $2.25 billion in secured debt to continue operations.

Belk was among the first department stores to begin reopening after the pandemic crested. Macy’s was also an early opener, but in small batches: 68 stores in early May, then 50 more a couple of weeks later. New policies include withholding for 24 hours garments that had been tried on rather than restocking them immediately.

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