Shares of J. Jill on Thursday tanked nearly 54% at one point after the women's apparel retailer reported that first quarter net sales fell to $176.5 million from $181.5 million in the year-ago quarter.
Store comps suffered as well: Total comparable sales, (in-stores combined with direct-to-consumer sales) fell by 3.3%, although direct-to-consumer net sales were 41.9% of total net sales, up from 40.5% in the year-ago quarter.
Gross profit fell to $116.3 million year over year from $120.3 million, and net income plunged to $4.4 million from $11.3 million in the year-ago quarter. Gross margin shrank to 65.9% from 66.3% a year ago, according to a company press release.
J. Jill CEO Linda Heasley pinned some of the company's woes on the weather, but said that execution and product issues were also to blame.
She said that the retailer found out the hard way that its paper catalog had been fostering discovery and sales among loyal customers after a shift to digital marketing slowed sales. And overly subdued palettes — February's blue, March's khaki and black, and April's brown and white — didn't move shoppers who were interested in more colors and details. "The impact of product on Q1 is disappointing but it's also correctable," she said.
The company has shifted to a more balanced and seasonal, rather than monthly, approach to colors, and brought back textures, embroidery and other details. "Our customer loves color. ... She is looking for that pop of color," Heasley said. "She is looking for those tassels. We have to be careful with that because she doesn't want it to be too fussy, but she really appreciates those details."
As a result, the company is left with more inventory than it anticipated. Inventory at the end of the quarter rose to $85.4 million from $77.5 million at the same time a year ago. "With the missteps we had this quarter ... it got ahead of us," Heasley told analysts, noting that the situation forced markdowns. "The customer voted against the product line in addition to the very cool, unseasonably cool spring weather that we had."
J. Jill isn't alone, according to research from Morgan Stanley analyst Kimberly Greenberger last week. In a note emailed to Retail Dive that included research on promotional and clearance trends made worse by this year's cool spring, Greenberger's team said that store checks at several retailers revealed increased promotional pricing, with J. Jill in particular offering "extra 30% off markdowns" on top of the 10% to 15% price cuts that were similar to last year.
The retailer lowered its fiscal year guidance in light of the quarter's performance, saying that total comp sales will likely fall 2% to 4% and net sales are expected to be flat to a 2% decline. In the quarter, the company opened two stores and closed one, ending with 283.