Struggling malls and big box stores are having no problem getting selfie-taking millennials through the doors to buy cheap lipstick and fancy eyeliner.
After Thursday's market close, Ulta Beauty (ULTA) reported fourth quarter revenue of $1.58 billion on earnings of $2.25 a share, trouncing Wall Street's expectations for earnings of $2.08 to $2.13 a share on sales of $1.52 billion to $1.54 billion.
Ulta shares fell in after-hours trading by 4.41% to $12.07 likely as a result of the beauty retailer's slightly lower-than-expected 2017 outlook. For the first quarter, Ulta expects to achieve comparable sales growth of 9% to 11%, compared to last year's 15.2% increase. Earnings are seen in the range of $1.75 and $1.80 a share vs. Wall Street estimates for $1.80 a share.
Still, just because Wall Street appears to be malcontent perfectionists, that doesn't mean Ulta had a bad quarter and their business model of offering a mix of affordable cosmetics and higher end brands is no longer working. The beauty retailer's net sales increased an impressive 24.6% in the quarter, while comparable store sales grew 16.6% (due to gains in store traffic, no less) and its e-commerce sales rose 63.4%. The number of people in Ulta's loyalty program spiked 28% last year to 23.4 million.
Most retailers would kill for such numbers right now.
"On the merchandising front we continue to see trends similar to the preceding quarters, with prestige cosmetics leading the way, but with strength across all major categories and newness contributing significantly to our performance," said Ulta Beauty CEO Mary Dillon on a conference call.
Ulta's strong performance follows e.l.f. Beauty's (ELF) solid fourth quarter results the day prior. The company reported sales growth of 17% and a 36% increase in earnings per share, while predicting 2017 sales to rise as much as 28% and its earnings 19%.
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The two retailers' strong sales growth shows millennials are still buying cosmetics in brick-and-mortar stores, if nothing else. And, they're buying them cheap or splurging on something more expensive.
e.l.f. Beauty's brands are carried at an affordable price at Target (TGT) and Walmart (WMT) , and are clearly doing well, despite the fact that Target has seen slowing foot traffic and Walmart's gains have been meager.
In a recent interview with TheStreet, e.l.f. CEO Tarang Amin said the average customer buying the company's beauty products is a "makeup enthusiast," therefore she wants to try on new styles and experiment with products. And, because there is so much beauty information circulating the web, millennials are no longer taking advice from beauticians at department stores - like their mothers before them had - who try to entice consumers, naturally, to buy more-expensive products.
This was a "remarkably great quarter," TheStreet's Jim Cramer, manager of the Action Alerts PLUS portfolio, said on CNBC's "Mad Dash" segment Thursday about e.l.f Beauty.
You can't walk out of your house anymore without looking good, thanks to all the selfies and social media platforms that are out there, he reasoned. e.l.f.'s reasonably priced products ensure that consumers have easy access to the brand.
Even J.C. Penney (JCP) , which reported a 0.7% decline in same-stores sales for the fourth quarter and announced plans to close 130 to 140 stores, saw gains from Sephora. The makeup retailer has 577 shops inside J.C. Penney stores that hawk stuff at a discounted price compared to at its standalone stores. J.C. Penney plans to open 70 more Sephora shops this year because sales have been so strong.
"Even with the tough start in November, our new growth initiatives delivered another quarter of strong performance, particularly Appliances, Sephora, Salon, Fine Jewelry and Toys," CEO Marvin Ellison said on J.C. Penney's recent earnings call.
Macy's (M) , on the other hand, warned Wall Street over the summer that it's been seeing weakness in its high-priced cosmetics space. This likely means that while research firm MarketResearch predicts the U.S. makeup market to rise by a compound annual rate of 3.8% from 2013 to 2018, reaching $8.4 billion, that growth will be driven by those selling affordable cosmetics at discount chains or a place like Ulta that offers a balance of high and low prices.
"Category trends [cosmetics] show no let up," wrote analysts at KeyBanc Capital Markets on Friday. That may be an understatement, guys.