Lighter mall traffic was part of the reason Signet Jewelers saw holiday season sales drop. Same-store sales at Kay Jewelers stores specifically declined 5 percent, with freestanding stores outperforming mall locations.
Akron, Ohio--Hurt by the decline in mall traffic and lost online sales due to overloaded websites, Signet Jewelers Ltd. turned in what CEO Mark Light deemed a “disappointing” holiday performance.

Signet’s same-store sales in November and December declined nearly 5 percent, compared to an increase of 5 percent in the same period last year.
Total sales were $1.94 billion, down 5 percent from $2.05 billion last year.

At constant exchange rates, same-store sales were down 3 percent while total sales slipped 5 percent.

On a conference call Wednesday morning, Signet CEO Mark Light said the main driver behind the decline in sales was the poor performance of the websites for the Sterling division stores, Kay Jewelers, Jared the Galleria of Jewelry and its regional brands.

Signet upgraded its sites to include responsive design, better navigation and enhanced product detail pages, among other improvements, and tested them in the spring.

But the sites were never tested for the amount of traffic they would receive over the holiday season and didn’t hold up; they were slow, and there were customer communications issues and purchasing disruptions.

“The traffic was so heavy that our legacy systems couldn’t handle the improvements that we made,” Light said.

Signet’s e-commerce sales totaled $142.5 million in November and December, down 2 percent compared with the prior year.

The decline was due entirely to technical issues with the Sterling brands websites. Sites for brands in the Zale division, Zales Jewelers, Piercing Pagoda, Gordon’s Jewelers and Peoples and Mappins in Canada, recorded a 14 percent increase in sales.

Also compounding Signet’s problems this holiday season was the decline in mall traffic, which led to lower overall sales and forced department stores to be “highly promotional,” Light said, noting that Signet “elected consciously not to chase these sales” in an effort to maintain margin.

Kay Jewelers and Jared the Galleria of Jewelry both posted a nearly 5 percent decline in comps, while same-store sales were down 3 percent for Zales Jewelers. The Piercing Pagoda was the only Signet chain to record positive same-store sales, with a 4 percent increase on the back of strong sales of 14-karat gold jewelry.

Light said diamond fashion jewelry did well, including the Ever Us two-stone rings and extensions to the Vera Wang “Love” collection.

Signet lowered its guidance for its fiscal fourth quarter, which includes the month of January.

The retailer now expects a 4.3 to 4.8 percent decline in same-store sales for the period, up from the 2 to 4 percent previously forecast.

For the full fiscal year, comps are expected to be down 2 to 2.5 percent, up from the 1 to 2.5 percent previously forecast.

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