Retailers wrestle with mountain of unsold stock

Adidas announced a first quarter profit plunge of 93 percent amid a huge decline in demand for the clothing sector. (AFP)
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Updated 03 June 2020

Retailers wrestle with mountain of unsold stock

  • Many stores are likely to pursue a combination of holding sales as well selling stock to off-price retailers

MADRID: Forget fast or slow fashion, now it’s ground to a halt.

A mountain of apparel stock has been piling up in stores, distribution centers, warehouses and even shipping containers during months of COVID-19 lockdowns. As retailers reopen around the world, they have to work out how to get rid of it.

Their main options? Keep it in storage, hold a sale, offload it to “off-price” retailers like TJ Maxx which sell branded goods at deep discounts, or move it to online resale sites.

None are ideal, and all are damage-limitation.

Real estate company Knight Frank told Reuters it had fielded inquiries for excess stock for over 6 million square feet(557,500 square meters) of short-term let warehouse space in Britain since the pandemic took hold there in March.

Yet storage is only a realistic option for evergreen “basics” that are not tied to one particular year and could be sold at a later date should consumer demand bounce back — items like underwear, t-shirts, chinos and classic sneakers.

Apparel chains including British high-street retailer Next and German sportswear brand Adidas said they had stashed away unsold basics, with the aim to offer them to shoppers next year instead.

But stowing away piles of inventory is risky.

“This is not like wine that gets better with age. Your inventory gets worse,” said Emanuel Chirico, chief executive of PVH Corp, which owns Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger, on a recent earnings call.

In the US, clothing sales fell 89 percent in April from the same month in 2019, while in the UK clothing sales sank by 50 percent compared with a squeezed March.

Retailers hope that easing of lockdown measures will see shoppers return to stores, eager to unleash pent-up demand. But there is no guarantee that sales will rebound any time soon.

Many stores are likely to pursue a combination of holding sales as well selling stock to off-price retailers. The mix will depend on consumer appetite, how much stock stores have to shift and how fast they must free up space for new collections.

In-store discounts are usually a better option as dumping inventory in bulk to off-price players returns just pennies on the dollar for the retailers.

Off-price retail group TJX, which started opening its TJ Maxx and Marshalls stores this month, said in May there was “incredible availability” of stock on the market.


Lebanon’s $15bn blast repair bill adds to economic misery

Updated 42 min 55 sec ago

Lebanon’s $15bn blast repair bill adds to economic misery

  • Beirut port devastation brings warnings of housing crisis and billion-dollar hit to exports, imports

BEIRUT: Lebanon could face a repair bill of up to $15 billion in the aftermath of a cataclysmic chemical blast at Beirut port, according to a top government adviser.

The explosion, which was felt as far away as Cyprus, killed at least 100 people, wounded thousands and left an additional 300,000 Beirut residents homeless. 

It is thought to have been caused by nearly three tons of ammonium nitrate, a common agricultural fertilizer, that was confiscated in 2013 and improperly stored in warehouses. But after months of economic misery, the collapse of the currency and mounting civil unrest, it is being seen as the consequence of years of neglect, financial mismanagement and corruption as across the country.

Charbel Cordahi, an economist and financial adviser to the president, estimated the cost of damages from the explosion, including compensation, at around $15 billion. 

“Up to 70 percent of Lebanon’s trade channels through the port of Beirut,” he told Arab News.

“Airports and other ports in the country can facilitate only 30-40 percent of this trade, and opening the borders with Syria can facilitate another 20 percent. This means that at least $5 billion of imports will not find their way to the country, and another $2 billion of exports will stay on ground in the coming eight months. This represents a loss of around $4 billion, or 15 percent of gross domestic product,” he said.

He added that without an international aid program, “Lebanon cannot face this disaster.”

The explosion caps months of misery for the Lebanese, nearly half of whom now live below the poverty line. Popular anger directed at the government and political classes has swelled as a wider economic crisis has been made worse by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Efforts to assess the damage at Beirut port, the country’s main trade gateway, are already underway. The second priority will be to restore food security and ensure the country does not run out of wheat after grain silos were destroyed, while also making sure residents who have lost their homes are rehoused as quickly as possible. Maintaining medical supplies and mitigating the environmental impact will also be a priority for city chiefs.

Many residents of the city are unable to return to their homes, even if their buildings remain visibly intact, because of the potential structural damage caused by the 4.5 Richter-scale blast.

“We need other countries to help us reconstruct Beirut,” Gen. Mohammed Kheir, secretary general of the Higher Relief Council, told Arab News. “We would be grateful if each country rebuilt a street or neighborhood in Beirut, like they did following the 2006 Israeli aggression. That would be the best way.”

He also appealed for emergency prefab homes for families for whom the government may not be able to provide housing.

Beirut Gov. Marwan Abboud, who estimated the primary damage at $3-$5 billion, appealed to the international community and the Lebanese diaspora to help.

Health officials had told Arab News that the country was running low on medical equipment, especially items needed for major surgery, and hoped that aid from abroad would fill the gap.

It is still too early to assess the full environmental impact of the blast, but environmental expert Mostapha Raad said a potentially bigger catastrophe may have been averted when the wind carried away a toxic cloud filled with nitric acid away from land and toward open sea.

“We were afraid the ammonium nitrate residue would lead to cooling off the weather and causing acidic rain, but according to tests on air samples, the result was green and the cloud disappeared over the sea,” he said.