Victoria’s Secret parent L Brands warns it might not be able to handle the holiday rush, as retailers plan for a shopping season unlike any other

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A Walmart store on Black Friday in 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic. Reuters
  • Retailers are bracing for a holiday shopping season unlike any other.
  • Some, like Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works parent L Brands, are warning that pandemic-related restrictions and a surge in online shopping could create some roadblocks.
  • Many retailers are getting holiday deals going earlier than usual to avoid crowds and shipping bottlenecks.
  • In an earnings call, Kohl’s execs referred to shipping surcharges by FedEx, UPS, and the USPS as an additional “headwind.”
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Retailers are already warning that the upcoming holiday shopping season will be unlike any other before.

The coronavirus pandemic has upset supply chains, created a surge in online shopping, and led to social distancing protocols being enforced in stores.

Some retailers, like Walmart, Target, and Best Buy, have announced that they won’t be opening their doors on Thanksgiving like they have in years past, in order to avoid having large crowds in stores.

Others are getting the holiday deals going early, in the hopes of spreading out the typical rush over a longer period of time.

During its second-quarter earnings call last week, Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works parent L Brands warned its business could face some challenges once the holidays come around. Company leaders said that the “majority” of its annual sales and profits come in the fourth quarter, driven by consumers buying gifts.

“Given the traffic constraints imposed by social distancing protocols in stores and capacity restraints in our direct channel distribution centres, we have a very cautious outlook about our ability to manage our typical holiday volumes, which are about three times larger per week than the average week in the second quarter historically,” L Brands execs said in commentary that accompanied earnings.

The company added that it would spread its holiday deals out over a longer period of time rather than concentrate them in the fourth quarter.

Complicating matters, UPS, FedEx, and the US Postal Service have all announced surcharges on holiday shipping that will go into effect later this year. Shipping volumes have been unusually high as consumers opt to shop online and largely stay home amid the ongoing pandemic.

In Kohl’s earnings call, CFO Jill Timm referred to these surcharges as a “headwind” and said the company is working through alternatives to avoid them.

“You’re going to see a huge marketing push for us to have a pick-up-in-store opportunity, which obviously has no cost of shipping associated with it,” Timm said.

Target similarly emphasised its pick-up and drive-up offerings ahead of what CEO Brian Cornell said a “very different holiday season.” Target is rolling out its holiday deals in October.

“We’ll have to stay nimble, we’ll have to adjust,” he said during the big-box store’s earnings call. “But again, I think the team has demonstrated the flexibility and the adaptability to this new environment.”