Shopping around for stocks

Most of us visit our local high street not to go clothes shopping, but increasingly to eat out, or other social experiences.

The demise of our local high streets is largely down to the rise of online retail, or e-commerce.

Although many of us like the convenience of buying a new outfit from the comfort of our sofa, traditional retailers have paid a heavy price.

Those that were quick to establish an online presence have often outlasted the retail groups that continued to rely on footfall for sales.

Still, it seems like there isn’t a week that goes by without another big name in retail shutting up shop – for good.

US-based Ascena Retail Group, which sells clothing for women and girls across several brands, including Ann Taylor, Loft, Lane Bryant and Lou & Grey, is one of the retailers facing many challenges.

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In May, the group announced it was closing all of its 650 Dressbarn stores, while recent financial results have exposed the business’ struggles.

In the third quarter of 2019, ending 4 May, Ascena reported a net loss of $238m, or $1.20 per diluted share, compared to a net loss of $40m, or $0.20 per diluted share, the same period a year earlier.

But in the fourth quarter of 2019, the group has forecast net sales of $1.175bn to $1.215bn, and has predicted that the decrease in comparable sales will narrow down to 3%.

Financial woes have hit another US retail company recently, Sears Holdings (SHLD/USD). The company owns the Kmart and Sears brands – far more familiar to US consumers than to UK shoppers.

In October 2018, the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, emerged from bankruptcy in February and now it is closing another 26 of its stores, having closed hundreds already. Five of those are Kmarts but 21 of those set to shut are Sears stores.

While Sears Holdings and Ascena Retail Group could yet turn their fortunes around to deliver decent returns for investors, the competitive nature of online retail is likely to make a turnaround story difficult.

Last month, online retailer Amazon, announced it was launching a personal shopper service, called Personal Shopper by Prime Wardrobe. The subscription service will be available to Prime customers for $4.99 a month and, having filled out a questionnaire, you will be able to select eight items of clothing.

This kind of online retail experience could spell the end of high street shopping as we know it.

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