So what happened to the mall, really? If you look at this quarterly crop of retail earnings, you are kind of stuck thinking that the consumer's going to the mall -- she's just going to fewer, more special stores in the mall that she thinks are intriguing or value-oriented.
Just go through what we heard from some mall-based retailers this quarter. Two entirely mall-based companies, L Brands (LB) and Urban Outfitters (URBN) , had among the strongest performances of any of the companies in the sector. Urban was across the board, but the really intensely mall-based Anthropologie was a total stand-out. L Brands saw some double digit numbers out of Pink, which has become a stalwart in the mall. Bath & Body Works put up its usual strong numbers because, alas, you can't smell through Amazon (AMZN) ... yet.
Nordstrom's (JWN) anniversary sale outperformed and, again, that fits the puzzle of getting something of value at the mall. Yes, that is that big a needle-mover.
Ralph Lauren (RL) saw a turn based on the company's ability to more quickly execute on what people want -- the speed factor -- which is what L Brands focused on so well in terms of making its improvements, too.
With this quarter, we saw a return to sanity in sporting goods. Foot Locker (FL) had been reporting punk numbers, but if the mall is dead, how do you explain the astounding 4.7% increase it just posted with a nice 40 basis point improvement ? Yes, it is true we are now dealing with the closing of Sports Authority. But 4.7%? That's hardly dead, last I looked.
Children's Place (PLCE) had a monster quarter and it's a mall-based operator. Jane Elfers doesn't get a lot of credit for what she has done, but it's been pretty reliably consistent and produced a terrific stock performance.
Who hasn't done well? We know that Macy's (M) hasn't and it's been a heavy anchor. (Look for Dave & Buster's (PLAY) to be taking advantage of the departure of Macy's from a bunch of malls, according to FillorKill.)
We know Gap (GPS) hasn't, although it did catch an upgrade today. Tiffany's (TIF) been a big loser. Penney's (JCP) been hit or miss, but now trending toward hit. GameStop (GME) has been nothing to write home about. Express (EXPR) , Chico's (CHS) , Skechers (SKX) , all "eh". And who knows how many malls are still being hurt by the hundreds of Sears (SHLD) that are still trying to hold on.
My conclusion? I think we have to junk the "mall is dead" thesis and come back to differentiation. The mall-based Pink can't be putting up double digit numbers if the mall is dead. That doesn't make sense. Urban makes no sense either.
In the meantime, we do know that this was the quarter when Target (TGT) has become a source of traffic for other companies and Amazon. You put up a minus comp, it means you are losing business to everyone from Walmart (WMT) to Amazon to the specialty stores that hadn't been that strong of late.
Oh, and one more thing: don't blame Apple (AAPL) for your weakness. I don't care how bad Apple has caused you to mis-plan, most people do not go to Target to get Apple merchandise. That one really stuck in the craw.