By Lenore Fedow
A Signet employee, wearing a face mask and gloves, cleans around the store. The jewelry giant posted a 35 percent year-over-year drop in second-quarter sales. (Photo courtesy of Signet Jewelers)
Akron, Ohio—Signet Jewelers Ltd.’s sales saw improvement in the second quarter as stores began to reopen, but the jewelry giant still leaned heavily on its growing online sales.

In the second quarter ending Aug. 1, sales totaled $888 million, down 35 percent year-over-year, with same-store sales dropping 31 percent, the retailer reported Thursday morning.

Year-to-date, Signet’s sales have totaled $1.74 billion, down 38 percent year-over-year, with same-store sales sliding 35 percent.

When COVID-19 hit, the retailer made the decision to close all its stores in North America, furloughing the majority of store and support center employees and cutting executive salaries, in late March.

Stores began to reopen in May, with around 20 percent of Signet’s stores operational then. Seventy-five percent were open by the end of June, and 90 percent by mid-July.

Brick-and-mortar sales improved alongside store reopenings, said Signet, but ultimately declined 46 percent in the second quarter.

Online sales were up 72 percent year-over-year to $270.1 million.

On the company’s earnings call Thursday morning, CEO Gina Drosos noted that 40 percent of purchases in the second quarter came from new customers, many of whom were acquired online.

Signet’s e-commerce momentum continued in the third quarter with preliminary data showing August e-commerce sales up 65 percent, while same-store sales have climbed 11 percent.

The company is leaning heavily on its digital capabilities, implementing a full-time virtual selling team and training 15,000 store associates to work virtually with customers from their homes or in stores.

RELATED CONTENT: Here’s How Signet Is Reopening Its Stores

“Signet’s store footprint, combined with recognized jewelry expertise and new virtual selling capabilities, is a strategic, competitive advantage in the jewelry category where trust and counseled selling is important, especially in bridal,” said Drosos.

Signet said it served more than 300,000 customers via virtual consultations and curbside pickup in the second quarter and increased its e-commerce distribution throughput five-fold.

“While the macro environment remains uncertain, the company believes that it is prepared, through both its virtual and physical footprints, to serve customers wherever they want to shop and however this upcoming holiday season unfolds,” Signet said in the press release on its results.

In North America, where Signet’s banners include Kay, Jared and Zales, second-quarter same-store sales sank 31 percent to $823 million.

While brick-and-mortar same-store sales in the region fell 45 percent, online sales were strong, climbing 73 percent.

The average transaction value (ATV) was up 2 percent, but the number of transactions fell 28 percent.

A greater proportion of online sales in the second quarter hurt Signet’s payment plan participation rate, which includes credit and leasing sales. It was 40 percent in the quarter, down from 52 percent last year.

In the U.K., same-store sales were down 39 percent.

Brick-and-mortar sales sank 55 percent while e-commerce sales were up 66 percent. ATV increased 11 percent while the number of transactions dropped 43 percent.

Product-wise, Drosos noted that more customers were buying meaningful, sentimental, and religious jewelry amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sales in the bridal category sank 27 percent to $445.9 million year-over-year in the second quarter and fell 37 percent to $788.1 million in the half-year.

Customizations services, like those offered by Neil Lane and Vera Wang, were a driver in bridal sales, said Drosos.

Signet’s research found that more than 50 percent of non-engaged couples are quarantining together and half of them said their relationship had gotten stronger. Only seven percent said it had gotten worse.

She said the results signal “a nice tailwind in the bridal business.”

Sales in of fashion jewelry dropped 33 percent to $307.2 million year-over-year in the second quarter and fell 35 percent to $617.7 million in the half-year.

In the watches category, quarterly sales were down 50 percent to $46.1 million year-over-year and down 50 percent to $88.2 million in the half-year.

By banner, Kay Jewelers posted quarterly sales of $325 million, down 39 percent year-over-year while Jared’s quarterly sales dipped 34 percent to $168.5 million.

Zales’s quarterly sales were down 34 percent to $185.1 million while Piercing Pagoda’s sales fell 20 percent to $59.3 million.

E-tailer James Allen was the sole gainer, posting quarterly sales of $64.3 million, up 20 percent year-over-year.

The retailer began testing out James Allen store-in-stores in Jared locations to give the banner a “curated, physical presence.” The concept will be gradually expanded to 80 locations, or one-third of Jared’s fleet.

Looking at its store count, Signet closed 293 of the 380 stores it plans to shutter this fiscal year, mostly in traditional mall locations.

As for the holiday season ahead, Signet will be launching new products this month in preparation.

“Fifty-one percent of customers are planning to shop earlier this holiday season than they have in the past, so we’ll be ready for that,” said Drosos.

In light of the coronavirus pandemic, Signet declined to provide financial guidance for the remainder of fiscal 2021.

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