Department Store Sales Sag -- WSJ

Dwindling foot traffic takes a toll; 'Don't count us out,' says Macy's finance chief

Macy's Inc.'s troubles showed no sign of abating as the department store reported another quarter of falling sales, ahead of a flurry of results from other retailers battling similar problems with store traffic and online competition.

During the April quarter, sales at Macy's stores open at least a year declined 5.2%, more than the 3% decrease analysts expected, according to Consensus Metrix, marking the ninth straight quarter that same-store sales have fallen.

Shares of the company sank 17% to $24.35 on Thursday as profit also dropped. The stock has been pummeled this year, already falling 18% through Wednesday's close.

"Don't count us out, we're not dead," Karen Hoguet, Macy's chief financial officer, said in an interview. The company is rolling out several initiatives that it expects to lift sales, including reconfigured shoe and fine-jewelry departments, she added. "While we'll be operating fewer stores, we have the opportunity to make our stores better."

The government is expected on Friday to release its monthly retail sales data, with economists expecting a 0.5% increase for April following two months of declines. Ms. Hoguet said that despite an uptick in sales in March and April from an unusually weak February, Macy's wasn't banking on a rebound in consumer spending this year.

Kohl's Corp., Nordstrom Inc. and Hudson's Bay Co., which owns Saks Fifth Avenue and Lord & Taylor, also reported declines in same-store sales for the three months ended April 29. Kohl's Chief Executive Kevin Mansell said sales and traffic improved as the quarter progressed.

February same-store sales declined around 8%, while same-store sales in the combined March-April period were down just 1%. Mr. Mansell said February could have been affected by the slower-than-usual receipt of tax refunds.

Nordstrom's total sales rose 2.7% to $3.3 billion for the period. Same-store sales fell 2.8% at its department stores and But the measure rose 2.3% at Nordstrom Rack, its off-price chain. Profits increased to $63 million from $46 million a year ago.

The retail sector is in focus on Wall Street over the next few days, with J.C. Penney Co. scheduled to report results on Friday and Home Depot Inc., Target Corp. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. next week.

Foot traffic continues to dwindle at brick-and-mortar stores as shoppers increasingly opt to make purchases online. Retailers have responded by shutting stores and cutting jobs.

"The past year will be remembered as one of the most challenging periods for 'brick and mortar' retailers," Sears Holdings Corp. Chief Executive Edward Lampert wrote in a blog post Thursday, adding that the Sears and Kmart chains were "fighting like hell" to transform to meet these challenges.

Macy's early this year said it would eliminate more than 10,000 jobs and detailed plans to close dozens of stores after another weak holiday season, further signaling that department stores have lost their once-central place in American retailing.

The 159-year-old retailer has been testing programs to lift sales, such as weeding out certain shoe styles and buying deeper in the ones its merchants considered winners. It also added more color and fashion and armed its sales staff with technology to make it easier for them to see what was in stock. In certain stores, Macy's tested an open sales format similar to DSW Inc. The changes, which will be rolled out to all stores by August, drove a double-digit increase in shoe sales.

Macy's Chief Executive Jeffrey Gennette, who took the reins from Terry Lundgren in March, said he expects the expanded programs will have a measurable impact starting this quarter and building through the fall. "In 2017, we are focused on taking actions to stabilize our brick-and-mortar business," Mr. Gennette said.

In all for the first quarter, Macy's posted a profit of $71 million, or 23 cents a share, down from $116 million, or 37 cents a share, a year earlier. Overall sales fell 7.5% to $5.34 billion, below expectations of $5.47 billion, in part owing to store closings.

Still, Macy's backed its 2017 guidance for total sales to be down between 3.2% and 4.3%.

Kohl's said inventory management helped it improve its bottom line in the first quarter despite lackluster sales. Gross margin widened and adjusted earnings per share beat Wall Street estimates by a dime.

Kohl's has made a big bet on activewear, with its Under Armour launch and an expanded Nike business, and that helped lift sales in the quarter, Mr. Mansell said. He added that Kohl's is beginning a targeted effort to capture sales from competitors who are closing stores in the hopes of boosting traffic at its own locations.

But the company is also continuing to focus on expense reduction and plans to outline broader cost-cutting plans when it reports its next quarterly results in August.

Kohl's stock fell 7.8% to $37.16, while Nordstrom was down 7.6% to $46.21.

Corrections & Amplifications Nordstrom's total sales rose in the most recent quarter, while same-store sales fell 2.8% at its department stores and They rose 2.3% at Nordstrom Rack. An earlier version of this article incorrectly said total sales fell, with same-store sales falling 1.7% at its department stores and rising 8% at Nordstrom Rack. (May 11)

Write to Suzanne Kapner at and Anne Steele at

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

May 12, 2017 02:47 ET (06:47 GMT)