Coldwater Creek ( CWTR) sank Friday after the retailer became the latest women's apparel chain to indicate that it failed to make waves during the holiday shopping season. Shares of the Sandpoint, Idaho-based women's apparel retailer fell 12% after the company slashed its fourth-quarter earnings targets. Coldwater said it now expects earnings of 16 cents to 17 cents a share for the quarter ending Feb. 3, down from a previous guidance of 26 cents to 27 cents a share. The company, which caters to baby boomer women, attributed the lower view to weak traffic. That, in turn, hurt sales of fashion-knit tops, moleskin pants, jewelry and accessories. But Coldwater Creek was hardly alone in the deep end, as the weak view was just the latest disappointment amid women's clothing chains. AnnTaylor Stores ( ANN) cut its fourth-quarter profit estimate earlier this month after a steeper-than-expected decline in same-store sales, or sales at stores open at least a year. Chico's FAS ( CHS) also gave a fourth-quarter estimate much lower than Wall Street's projection. Meanwhile, Talbots ( TLB) last week also offered a weaker-than-anticipated fourth-quarter earnings view and guided lower for the first quarter. On Wednesday, Charming Shoppes ( CHRS) sliced its earnings forecast following tepid holiday sales. Richard Hastings, senior retail sector analyst at Smyth Bernard Sands, says the market for mature women's apparel is a bit saturated, and there has been increased demand for more casual looks.
"Mature women apparel shoppers are looking for matching and coordinating pieces," he says, "and when these sets are complete, their demand goes down. This is not the case with young women, who do not match; they mix." Howard Davidowitz, chairman of retail consulting and investment banking firm Davidowitz & Associates, says the results demonstrated a change in consumer buying habits during the holidays, as shoppers turned away from apparel in favor of electronics. While there were some winners during the retail holiday season, such as J. Crew ( JCW) and American Eagle Outfitters ( AEOS), overall Davidowitz described the apparel chain sector's holiday performance as "a debacle." Davidowitz says there was no "must-have" apparel item this holiday season, which hurt the sector. Those companies that did succeed offered "a compelling assortment at the right price," he says. Hastings says that asset growth in the mature women's apparel specialty store sector will slow down as company cut back on plans for store openings and search for new initiatives. "Better earnings comparisons should occur later on," he says, "after these names make adjustments to their seasonal merchandising." Davidowitz also points out that Coldwater Creek had been enjoying a successful run for a long time. "There's a rule in apparel," he says, "nothing is forever."