Analysis: Macy’s on right track; still has more work to do

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Analysis: Macy’s on right track; still has more work to do

By Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail - 11/14/2018
After a slightly weaker prior quarter, thanks to some shifts in the promotional calendar, Macy's is firmly back on track with a very solid set of numbers. Total sales are up by a respectable 2.3%, supported by a very healthy 3.1% uplift in comparables. On the bottom line, net income rose by an impressive 130%.

Last year's dire comparative results, when total sales dropped by 6.1% and comparables fell by 4.0%, have helped to give Macy's some uplift. So too has a strong consumer economy. However, neither of these things should take away from the genuine progress Macy's has made and which has helped it to engineer a better set of results.

Our consumer tracking data also supports the story of an ongoing recovery. This time last year, 59% of Macy's customers rated their shopping experience as good or very good; this year that figure has risen to 67%. Our data also show that for the first time in over eight years, the number of people saying they will visit Macy's to do holiday shopping has risen. Along with the good sales numbers, these pieces of evidence underline that Macy's is succeeding in creating a stronger appeal.

Some of the success has come from the expansion of Macy's loyalty program, which has brought in a lot of new members, especially at the entry level. This has allowed Macy's to understand and connect with its less frequent shoppers, effectively keeping the brand on their radar. The rewards also act as an incentive for repeat visitation.

Within stores, there have been some improvements - especially at the so-called Growth50 shops which Macy's has targeted with increased levels of investment. We have been particularly impressed with the more edited and curated fashion offers within these outlets. It represents a step change from the messy hotchpotch that has traditionally greeted shoppers in older Macy's stores. With the investment in this first wave of stores paying off, Macy's now has the confidence to extend expenditure into more shops as it moves into 2019. In our view, this should provide a nice tailwind to sales as Macy's laps tougher comparatives in the new year.

That said, there is still a lot of work to do with physical stores. We are conscious that Macy's has a long tail of underinvested-in properties, many of which are underperforming and do not reflect the company's latest thinking. Some of these can be partially revived by incorporating the off-price Backstage concept. However, we also believe that more decisive action is needed over the medium term - which includes shrinking floorspace and potentially shuttering outlets where the return on investment is not viable.

One the factors that necessitate a reduction in space is Macy's success in digital, where online sales continue to grow at a good clip. In our view, Macy's is an often overlooked online powerhouse and we see position this strengthening as it ramps up services like collect in store at dedicated service stations. However, the flip side of this is that, in many locations, Macy's does not need to carry so many options and choice - especially in categories like fashion. As such, the right-sizing of its store estate is a natural part of this evolution.

Overall, we are pleased with Macy's progress. The energy and confidence that have been lacking for so long now seem to have returned. That said, this is only the start of Macy's journey. A lot more work is still needed to make Macy's a unique and compelling retail destination.