Categories Consumer, Earnings Call Transcripts, Retail

Urban Outfitters Inc. (URBN) Q3 2021 Earnings Call Transcript

URBN Earnings Call - Final Transcript

Urban Outfitters Inc. (NASDAQ: URBN) Q3 2021 earnings call dated Nov. 23, 2020

Corporate Participants:

Oona McCullough — Director of Investor Relations

Frank J. Conforti — Co-President, Chief Financial Officer, and Chief Operating Officer

Trish Donnelly — Chief Executive Officer of Urban Outfitters Group

Richard A. Hayne — Chief Executive Officer

Analysts:

Kimberly Greenberger — Morgan Stanley — Analyst

Lorraine Hutchinson — Bank of America — Analyst

Matthew Boss — JP Morgan — Analyst

Adrienne Yih — Barclays — Analyst

Janet Kloppenburg — JJK Research — Analyst

Marni Shapiro — The Retail Tracker — Analyst

Mark Altschwager — Baird — Analyst

Presentation:

Operator

Good day, ladies and gentlemen and welcome to the Urban Outfitters, Inc. Third Quarter Fiscal ’21 Earnings Call. At this time, all participants are in a listen-only mode. Later, we will conduct a question-and-answer session and instructions will follow at that time. [Operator Instructions] As a reminder, this conference call is being recorded. I would now like to introduce the call to Oona McDonald — I’m sorry, McCullough, Director of Investor Relations, Ms. McCullough, you may begin.

Oona McCullough — Director of Investor Relations

Good afternoon and welcome to the URBN third quarter fiscal 2021 conference call. Earlier this afternoon, the company issued a press release outlining the financial and operating results for the three and nine month periods ending October 31st, 2020. The following discussions may include forward-looking statements. It’s important to note at this time, the global COVID-19 pandemic has had and continues to have a significant material impact on URBN’s business. Given an extremely high level of uncertainty about the duration and extent of the virus’ near and long-term impact to the global retail environment, content discussed on today’s call could change materially at any time. Accordingly, future results could differ materially from historical practices and results or current descriptions, estimates and suggestions. Additional information concerning factors that could cause actual results to differ materially from projected results is contained in the company’s filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

On today’s call, you will hear from Frank Conforti, Co-President, URBN; Trish Donnelly, Global CEO, Urban Outfitters Group; and Richard Hayne, Chief Executive Officer, URBN. Following that, we will be pleased to address your questions. For more detailed commentary on our quarterly performance and the text of today’s conference call, please refer to our Investor Relations website at www.urbn.com. I will now turn the call over to Frank.

Frank J. Conforti — Co-President, Chief Financial Officer, and Chief Operating Officer

Thank you, Oona and good afternoon everyone. It continues to be a year full of challenges and I believe we continue to meet them head on. All three brands delivered sales improvement from Q2 and recorded lower Q3 markdown rates versus last year. We produced a new record low markdown rate for the third quarter, which helped to drive nearly $100 million of operating profit and an op profit rate above 10%. Our balance sheet remains strong as we paid down the remaining $120 million on our outstanding line of credit and ended the quarter with $634 million in cash and marketable securities. Each brand controlled inventories well and ended the quarter with inventory below their sales performance. I have said it before and I don’t mind saying it again, during an incredibly difficult environment, we could not be more proud of the teams and their exceptional execution.

Before I speak about our upcoming quarter, please note, there remains a high level of external uncertainty. The number of COVID cases are spiking at home and around the globe resulting in more government restrictions. So, as you can imagine, our current views could change at any time. Now, as we enter the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2021, it may be helpful for you to consider the following. Quarter-to-date, our sales are reasonably in line with where we finished the third quarter. Store sales have slowed slightly while digital demand has accelerated slightly. As already noted, there is a ton of uncertainty in the consumer behavior for the holiday season. Therefore, we are not forecasting where we believe sales will land for the quarter. If sales performance for Q4 were to remain fairly consistent with the third quarter, we believe URBN’s gross margin rate for the fourth quarter would deleverage.

Please note that I am referencing Q4 gross profit margin versus last year excluding the store impairment charges recorded in the fourth quarter in the prior year. The decrease in Q4 margin versus the prior year would primarily be due to increased delivery and logistics expense. This deleverage in delivery and logistics expense rate would be due in part to the increased penetration of the digital channel as well as increased costs to meet the strong digital consumer demand. This deleverage will not be fully offset by the digital penetration benefit in store occupancy due to negative store comps persisting and possibly getting worse than the third quarter result.

Many of you may question how our gross profit rate could decline in the fourth quarter given our strong margin performance in the third quarter. First and foremost, this is about delivery expense. We anticipate delivery expense will deleverage significantly more in the fourth quarter than it did in Q3. Three items would cause the deleverage. First, the increase in penetration of the digital channel. Second, an increase in carrier rates; and third, the need for an increased amount of expedited shipping to ensure packages arrive on time. As many of you are aware, the delivery demand is at or above network capacity in the United States. Knowing that our existing carriers will be unable to fully meet our demand, we have added additional regional carriers in an attempt to get shipments to our consumers on time.

Besides delivery, the other item that could contribute to a lower gross profit margin in Q4 is the markdown rate. In the third quarter, all three brands had favorable year-over-year markdown rates with Urban Outfitters and Free People delivering exceptionally low rates. This helped to drive a record low Q3 rate for URBN. With the uncertainty around the holiday season, especially in the store channel, we are anticipating markdowns in the fourth quarter to be less exceptional.

Now moving on to SG&A. Based on our current sales performance and our current plan, we believe SG&A could decline for the fourth quarter resulting in SG&A leverage versus last year. We continue to manage our expenses tightly while closely monitoring our top line performance. We are currently planning our effective tax rate for the fourth quarter to be fairly consistent with the third quarter. Capital expenditures for the fiscal year are planned at approximately $195 million. The spend is primarily related to expanded distribution facilities including the completion of our new omni-channel distribution facility in the U.K. and the start of construction on a new facility in the U.S. As a reminder, the foregoing does not constitute a forecast, but is simply a reflection of our current views. The company disclaims any obligation to update forward-looking statements. Now, I am pleased to turn the call over to Trish Donnelly, Global CEO of the Urban Outfitters brand.

Trish Donnelly — Chief Executive Officer of Urban Outfitters Group

Thank you, Frank and good afternoon everyone. I’m excited to report the Urban Outfitters brand delivered a positive 4% global retail segment comp for the third quarter. These comps were driven by exceptional growth in the digital channels in North America and Europe partially offset by more challenging comps in the store channel. Well controlled inventory management enabled historically low markdown rates and fast inventory turns. This coupled with disciplined expense management led to operating income double that of last year.

As I mentioned, the positive global retail comp was driven by our digital channel. All global KPIs sessions, conversion, and average order value saw impressive increases over last year. All geographical sectors Americas, Europe, APAC, Middle East, and Australia-New Zealand saw positive double-digit comps. In addition, every marketing channel, paid and unpaid, positive comped to last year. Most impressive was new customer growth in the digital channel. Globally, we gained 36% more customers over last year with both North America and Europe picking up hundreds of thousands of new customers during the quarter. In addition, we launched a new Urban Outfitters website in Mexico and the early results are very exciting.

Turning to the retail store channel, despite the obvious COVID-related challenges, the field teams drove impressive increases in both conversion and average transaction value, which helped offset some of the traffic decline. Our retail stores optimized their pick, pack, and ship capabilities and were able to fill close to 1 million direct-to-consumer units out of store inventories globally. In addition, we launched UO to GO, our curbside pickup capability, which continues to gain traction as we move into holiday. Other bright spots within the retail channel this quarter included the opening of our Urban Outfitters flagship store in Munich as well as an iets frans pop-up shop on Carnaby Street in London. On the North America side, we opened a new store in Sarasota, Florida and relocated our store in Omaha, Nebraska.

Strong top line sales were driven by positive customer response to our product assortment and allowed for historic full price selling rates across a number of categories. While the women’s businesses were key to success of the quarter, the Home business experienced the highest growth rates. Our speed to customer chase model allowed the teams to react to reads from Q2, pivot quickly and distort into trending categories for Q3. At the beginning of Q2, we started to see notable shifts in customer behavior. On the apparel side, structured product gave way to comfort and the teams quickly chased and distorted buys for Q3 into casual and cosy top, bottom, and third pieces in both men and women.

We also saw our customers shift their attention to our home areas whether they needed furniture and storage to setup work-from-home spaces, new bedding or textiles with which to decorate their apartments or houses, bakeware and drinkware to support a newfound love of kitchen and DIY, games and puzzles, both tech and non-tech as entertainment or music, listening to or playing, our complex merchandising model catered to needs in all facets of our 18 to 26-year-old core customers’ evolving interests. The efforts from the merchants, planners to designers on the product side were buoyed by relevant and compelling marketing campaigns.

The marketing teams immediately channeled our customers’ mindsets and created meaningful marketing messages to support our product strategy. Our UO at Home campaign drove growth and excitement to the business by featuring over 200 global influencers and creators from Paris to Copenhagen and Los Angeles to Miami, these diverse individuals photographed themselves in Urban Outfitters products within their local environments capturing their lifestyles, their interests, and creative expression. This wide range of creative assets reinforcing UO’s big ideas and key product categories felt authentic, familiar, and it resonated with our customers. We not only saw this in increased engagement and following on our social platforms, particularly Instagram, Pinterest, and TikTok, but we also saw increases in sales within the categories and the items we highlighted.

Another new marketing method we quickly adopted was hosting virtual experiences for our customers. Virtual dance and workout classes, DIY workshops, live performance concerts, and beauty tutorials were some of our most successful with thousands of customer sign-ups. And lastly, to further our customer connection, we partnered with the I Am a Voter campaign to help our customers navigate the 2020 election and inspire all to get involved, stay aware, and to vote. We created exclusive Ballot Box Tee Kits and emerged as a brand leader in encouraging the youth vote.

In closing, the third quarter was an exciting one for the Urban Outfitters brand. We will continue our focus on the customer from a product standpoint and will continue our fiscal diligence around inventory control. The last eight months have forced our team to re-evaluate how we operate and how we continue to please the customer. The operational competencies we’ve developed this past quarter in the retail channel around DTC order fulfillment will certainly prove beneficial this holiday season. The team’s ability to quickly pivot and give our customers relevant product, best-in-class marketing, innovative digital experiences, and personalized service in stores were critical in driving these results. I would like to thank Meg, the Urban Outfitters leadership team, our home office, and our field teams. Thank you. I will now turn the call over to Dick.

Richard A. Hayne — Chief Executive Officer

Thanks, Trish, Wow, what a phenomenal quarter. Strong comps, lean inventories, low markdowns, and well controlled expenses all leading to 100% jump in operating profits. Truly a great, great effort. Thanks and congratulations to you, Meg, and the entire Urban team. Good afternoon, everyone. Today, I will discuss our overall results for the third quarter, talk about performance by channel, then by brand, and give my thoughts on the holiday season before turning the call over to your questions. I am pleased to report URBN produced healthy revenues and excellent operating profits for Q3 versus the same quarter last year. Total comp sales were flat, but operating profits soared 31%. In addition, all large brands were profitable and together they delivered the lowest Q3 markdown rate and best full price selling in URBN history. This is a tremendous accomplishment given the environment we faced.

Let me now recap performance by channel beginning with stores. Not surprisingly, the store channel at all brands struggled again in the third quarter. Compared to the previous quarter, comps did improve, but stores still faced punishing traffic declines, particularly our high volume stores in large cities like New York, London, and San Francisco. All stores were open for business, but most were either forced to obey crippling occupancy caps or observe restrictions in hours of operation and sometimes both. The impact of low traffic on sales was partially offset by strong conversion increases as the shoppers that did visit came with intent.

In August when we last spoke, store traffic had improved slightly from July and we saw that improvement continue at a frustratingly slow pace through the middle of October. Since the third week in October, we’ve seen a slight reversal with lighter traffic as viral caseloads spiked and restrictions were reinstalled. Fortunately, store channel weakness in Q3 was offset by outsized strength in digital demand. Our overall digital business posted robust mid double-digit comp sales in each month of the quarter and that strength has continued in the fourth quarter to date. Sessions, orders, and conversion all saw powerful increases across all three brands and total new digital customers in the quarter jumped by 45%. Since May of this year, our fulfillment centers have experienced non-stop holiday-level workloads and have done an exceptional job of maintaining customer service levels.

Turning to a review by brand, beginning with Anthropologie. Of our three main brands, Anthropologie has been most harshly impacted by the pandemic. Anthro is known for offering more structured apparel appropriate for social interactions outside the home. Obviously, the virus has curtailed those interactions and thus the need for apparel that supports them. The apparel team has seen some success in adjusting the assortments to have a higher penetration of casual at home clothing. While this led to better comps in the third quarter versus the second quarter when compared to Q3 last year, apparel remains negative for two primary reasons. First, the average price of casual item is significantly less than most structured items. And second, more markdowns were needed to clear less desirable products. We believe the Anthro apparel category will likely remain challenged through the remainder of FY ’21.

Conversely, the AnthroLiving home category enjoyed one of its most productive quarters ever generating strong double-digit comp sales largely at regular price. As apparel sales suffer from a lack of social interaction, the home category benefits from stay-at-home regulations. Holiday gift giving typically boosts the penetration of home sales during Q4 and since home product is performing well, we believe Anthropologie could produce better retail segment comps despite continued softness in apparel sales. Even though total sales were disappointing, Anthropologie engineered a very respectable operating profit for the quarter driven by tight expense management and well controlled inventory levels. The brand entered Q4 with total inventory down 14% at cost. I thank Hillary, Meg, and the Anthropologie team for driving the improvement in third quarter results. The team has done a good job of mitigating the virus-induced impacts and keeping the brand profitable.

Now turning to Free People. What a quarter this brand delivered. Retail segment comps surged 17% driven by exceptional growth in digital demand. Since COVID, Free People has greatly benefited from having the highest digital penetration in our portfolio of brands. In the third quarter, that penetration topped 70%. For the quarter, all Free People product categories posted positive comps and strong regular price selling. This produced near record low Q3 markdown rate for the brand.

Within categories, none was more impressive than FP Movement, which delivered triple-digit comp increases. Sales of Movement product were even comp positive in the struggling store and wholesale channels. We are pleased to announce that in mid-October, we successfully opened our first standalone Movement store in Century City, California. We are encouraged by early results, which have tracked nicely ahead of plan. A second Movement store is slated to open later this month in Boulder, Colorado. We expect to open additional stores next year and believe Movement has the potential to become a $1 billion brand and plan to invest in its growth aggressively.

Free People sales in the wholesale channel dropped by 23% against Q3 last year. That represents a strong rebound from Q2’s 52% decrease. Each wholesale segment, especially stores, department stores, and close-out outlets registered similar declines. Sales declined, but profit showed strong improvement and were nicely positive as the brand issued far fewer discounts and allowances. My thanks go to Sheila, Meg, and the Free People team. The powerful quarter you produced is a wonderful tribute to your leadership and the talent and tenacity of your team, well done.

In Q3, our subscription rental brand, Nuuly, passed its one-year mark. After suffering relatively high pauses in customer subscriptions in the early days of COVID, Nuuly has seen a gradual re-engagement from subscribers who were on pause. Overall, Nuuly has seen a 75% increase in active paying subscribers since the lows recorded in mid-May and subscribers have been purchasing their rented products at almost twice the pre-COVID rate. In all, we remain optimistic about the future of rental post-COVID.

In any other year coming off such a strong third quarter with exceptional product execution and positive customer response to early holiday assortments would make us highly confident about holiday results. It goes without saying, 2020 is not like any other year and our confidence is tempered by external risks beyond our control. In recent weeks, governments in some regions such as the U.K. have returned to strict lockdowns and an increasing number of states and local municipalities have re-imposed draconian store capacity restrictions and stay-at-home orders. These actions insert a significant amount of uncertainty into our business for the weeks leading up to and beyond Christmas. We’re confident that our brands are executing well. We know our products and marketing messages are compelling. Most importantly in this environment, we’re highly confident in our well-developed digital capabilities. These enable us to capture consumer demand even when stores are challenged by external restrictions.

Turning to our current business, total company sales to date in Q4 are essentially in line with our third quarter results. Stores have de-accelerated slightly due to the new restrictions and the digital channel has improved slightly. As with everything else in the year 2020, the situation is highly fluid. So accurately predicting holiday sales is a low confidence proposition that I’ll avoid. We do anticipate a surge in digital demand in the coming weeks. To address that, we’ve taken extra measures to help scale with demand including increasing fulfillment center staffing levels versus last holiday, installing more automation equipment in those centers to help boost productivity, staffing stores to allow for more pack and ship processing, and launching curbside pickup in stores where it’s practical. As Frank pointed out, we are also concerned about the capacity constraints of our delivery carriers. To mitigate that risk, we’ve added more regional firms to our network. Our goal remains to be able to please customers no matter how, when or where they shop with us.

Before turning the call over to your questions, I want to thank our Co-Presidents, all brand and shared service leaders, their teams, and all associates worldwide. It has been a long and difficult year, but I’m incredibly proud of our teams, how hard they worked and the amazing results they’ve produced. They’ve shown grit and determination to have excelled in what has been the most difficult environment I can remember. Our positive performance is a direct reflection of our teams will to make it happen. So, thank you. Thanks also to our many partners and their workers around the world who went above and beyond to produce our products, often under the most trying of circumstances. Finally, thanks to our shareholders, especially our longer-term investors for your continued support. That concludes my prepared remarks. Now for your questions.

Operator

Ladies and gentlemen. Before our question-and-answer session, I would like to turn the call over to Dick Hayne for a comment.

Richard A. Hayne — Chief Executive Officer

Thank you very much and thank you all for joining the call tonight. Before we answer your questions, I just want to reiterate what both Frank and I have said on our prepared remarks and that is the answers to today’s questions that speak to the future outcomes will be based on current information only and our current view of the future. Right now, the external environment is volatile and highly uncertain. For instance, there is no way for us to know if COVID cases will continue to spike or retreat over the coming weeks. Likewise, it’s impossible for us to factor in possible future government lockdowns or store restrictions. Both could have a big impact on our fourth quarter results. Therefore, please understand that our answers today reflect plans developed from what we currently know and actual results could be very different, if the environment changes.

With that, I’m happy to tell you where we stand today as we enter Thanksgiving week. Total retail segment comp sales for November to date are essentially flat with our Q3 comp level. Store traffic and comps have softened slightly over the last few weeks. We currently have 68 stores closed to the public due to COVID-related restrictions. 55 of those stores are in Europe, 11 in Canada, and two in the U.S. Of the stores that remain open, 158 or almost a third of our North American fleet are operating with capacity restrictions under 50% of legal occupancy. All stores are currently permitted to pack and ship digital orders. Digital demand on the other hand has improved and offset the dip in store sales. This is especially true in the U.K. where our current digital business is producing triple-digit comps. With that, we will now be glad to take your questions.

Questions and Answers:

Operator

[Operator Instructions] Your first question comes from the line of Kimberly Greenberger with Morgan Stanley.

Kimberly Greenberger — Morgan Stanley — Analyst

Okay, great. Sorry, Dick, at the very end there, did you say triple-digit digital growth?

Richard A. Hayne — Chief Executive Officer

I did say that, Kimberly.

Kimberly Greenberger — Morgan Stanley — Analyst

I swear I wrote it down wrong.

Richard A. Hayne — Chief Executive Officer

Now, but listen, the stores are closed and as an example of how unpredictable this environment is, we just got word this morning that the stores will be able to re-open on December 3rd, but in the meantime, we are experiencing triple-digit growth in our digital. Thank God we have opened a new fulfillment center in Peterborough, U.K. and because of that fulfillment center we have the capacity to fill triple-digit increases.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Lorraine Hutchinson with Bank of America.

Lorraine Hutchinson — Bank of America — Analyst

Well, thanks, good afternoon. Frank, I just wanted to ask about the balance sheet. You have more cash on hand than you did at this time last year and now you’ve paid down your debt. Can you talk about the potential to resume the buyback and then also how we should be thinking about capex next year and beyond?

Frank J. Conforti — Co-President, Chief Financial Officer, and Chief Operating Officer

Yes, Lorraine, so I think right now, given the uncertainty Dick and I have talked about in the fourth quarter, we feel it’s prudent to remain flexible and conservative with our cash and our marketable securities. As you know, we always focus on the cash needs sort of in the same order supporting our business, investing in our growth-based initiatives, and then returning cash to shareholders. We do have a Board meeting coming up next week and as always, I’m sure capital allocation will be a topic of conversation at the Board meeting itself.

We did kick off a new distribution facility that we’re going to be building here in North America. I think we actually broke ground on that today in Kansas. That will impact our capital number next year. We don’t have a final number in and of itself. We just completed our facility in the U.K. and we will be building a new facility next year. We’re excited about both of these facilities as Dick said. They both enable us to continue to support the strong digital demand and growth that we’re seeing and we’re excited to be able to continue to invest in the business.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Kimberly Greenberger with Morgan Stanley.

Kimberly Greenberger — Morgan Stanley — Analyst

Okay.

Richard A. Hayne — Chief Executive Officer

Hi, Kimberly, sorry we cut it off.

Kimberly Greenberger — Morgan Stanley — Analyst

Yeah, no problem. I just wanted to clarify that. I wanted to ask just about digital delivery this holiday season and obviously, there has been some ongoing deleverage in digital delivery because digital is just rising as a percentage of sales and I wanted to ask, there are some one-time impacts coming to the fourth quarter. Can you lay out some of the strategies for us that you’re using to make sure that you can get product to consumers and any strategies to offset those costs. As we look to next year, what do you think — what sort of digital delivery cost increases would you expect to be sustained as opposed to which ones are more temporary. Thank you.

Richard A. Hayne — Chief Executive Officer

Okay Kimberly, I’ll take a shot at that. You’re right, we’re seeing very strong digital as I said in my prepared remarks mid double-digit sales growth in the digital channel and when this started in May, we all sat around and said this could easily continue through holiday and gosh, what are we going to do to fulfill those orders? So we put together plan, which included increasing the staffing in all the fulfillment centers beyond what we’ve done in prior holidays, incentivizing the fulfillment staff by offering additional bonuses and rewards that are based on performance metrics and attendance. We installed some additional equipment that is to increase our efficiency and throughput and productivity.

We’ve taken some of the Nuuly distribution center space and converted that into an area to process some of the fast turning holiday items and we provided additional labor hours in stores to enable them to handle more pick, pack, and ship orders and also in the stores allowed for curbside pickup where it’s practical. So we’ve done a lot of — taken a lot of steps to be able to handle the surge in demand and I have to tell you the fulfillment center has been working basically holiday shifts since May and has done an excellent job of performing and whenever we have any COVID-related issues in those fulfillment centers, Dave, Zeo [Phonetic] and his staff have taken care of it, so we can get right back in and keep working and have done a great job.

What are we seeing for the future? Well, I guess you’d have to tell me when you see COVID dying down or going away. After it goes away, I think things will return a bit to more normal charges for delivery and so if you think that’s going to happen the first quarter, second quarter or third quarter, that’s when we would expect to see it. Until that happens and the stores are continued challenged, I would suggest that the direct business will remain very elevated, the carriers will all have a problem fulfilling that volume and will continue to charge more. That’s how I see it. Frank, do you have anything to add to that?

Frank J. Conforti — Co-President, Chief Financial Officer, and Chief Operating Officer

Yeah, I just want to add, Kimberley, as it relates to just being able to meet the holiday volume. In addition to all of the measures Dick talked about from a fulfillment perspective, we did go ahead and add additional regional carriers as well to increase our capacity within the network. I also want to highlight, which was in my prepared commentary, the biggest delta between how we’re looking at Q3 gross profit margin versus Q4 gross profit margin really is about what Dick’s talking about is about the increased carrier rates in the fourth quarter in order — and those surcharges related to the demand that the delivery network is expecting to experience in the fourth quarter as well as us as a company anticipating a higher rate of expedited shipments in order to ensure that she gets her package on time.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Matthew Boss with JP Morgan.

Matthew Boss — JP Morgan — Analyst

Great, thanks and congrats on the improvement. So maybe, Frank, could you help break down same-store sales trends by brand in November and then Dick, just following the sheltered consumer for months now, what’s your sense on a fashion cycle potentially emerging on the other side of this crisis and how are you positioning the brand today to take advantage of that, if that is in fact the case?

Frank J. Conforti — Co-President, Chief Financial Officer, and Chief Operating Officer

So, Matt, I’ll take the first one and we don’t give out the same-store sales numbers by brand, but as Dick did highlight in his prepared commentary, over the last week or so of October as well as the early weeks in November, we did see a decline in traffic and a slight decline a corresponding decline in our store comps that has impacted all brands fairly consistently and offsetting that has been a slight improvement in the digital demand enabling us to be flat as Dick mentioned earlier on the call.

Richard A. Hayne — Chief Executive Officer

Okay, sheltered consumer, I like that term. I guess the first thing I’d say is we think that the Free People and Urban brands right now are already taking advantage of fashion demand and I would encourage both of those brands to just keep doing what they did in the third quarter. Having said that, Anthropologie, as I suggested in my prepared comments, is known for structured apparel that’s appropriate for occasions outside the home like work, dining out, events like graduations, weddings, and parties.

We believe post-COVID, whenever that comes, these events will return in full and I think with vengeance. If you just look at something like weddings, there have been a significant drop-off in a number of weddings and the size of those weddings and we believe there is a big demand building up for either weddings or the people who did get married during COVID to have follow-up parties where they can invite lots of people. So we think there is going to be a lot of events once it’s safe and we think that Anthropologie as well positioned to take advantage of those events and that social interaction outside the home. So once it’s over, we think Anthropologie’s signature looks will be back in high demand. Now, when that happens is I guess as I used to say the million dollar question and it’s something that we can’t answer, but we obviously are being conscious about pivoting back too early, which would just cause a lot of markdowns.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Adrienne Yih with Barclays.

Adrienne Yih — Barclays — Analyst

Good afternoon and let me add my congratulations. Very well done and so tough out there.

Richard A. Hayne — Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, Adrienne.

Adrienne Yih — Barclays — Analyst

You’re welcome. Trish, I was wondering if we can focus on the success of UO as one of the big core brands, how has the U.S. — the UO business permanently changed regarding inventory management, stocking levels, and size and breadth of the store offering. And then, Frank as we think about next year and this notion of a mean reversion of sales back into stores, where should we be thinking of the brick-and-mortar e-commerce split and the breakeven leverage point for stores. Thank you so much.

Trish Donnelly — Chief Executive Officer of Urban Outfitters Group

Hey, Adrienne, it’s Trish, in terms of permanent changes to how we manage inventory, there’s really nothing we’ve done differently. I think what the teams have done really well is taking that inventory that we do have and distorting into things that are working and we had some really strong business in women’s and as I mentioned in my commentary, our highest growth rates were in home and our ability to pivot into those categories that were working during COVID is obviously was really good for the business, but in terms of any permanent changes to inventory, we still manage on the same tight four [Phonetic] weeks of supply that we always have and I’ll pass it over to Frank for the rest of that question.

Frank J. Conforti — Co-President, Chief Financial Officer, and Chief Operating Officer

Hey, Adrienne, unfortunately, I just don’t have a lot of visibility on exactly what our model is going to look like going forward. I can tell you that we have modeled many different channel penetration scenarios, but which one comes true right now is really going to depend on the consumer. With that said, yes, we certainly believe the ongoing digital adoption we’ve seen over the last decade has definitely accelerated during the COVID outbreak, but to what extent, we just don’t know.

What we do know is we have strong brands and we have a strong connect and those brands have a strong connection to the customer. We’ve got excellent operational capabilities and a strong balance sheet. So honestly, however the consumer wants to settle in from a shopping channel perspective, we will adjust accordingly and I think we’ve done a very good job at quickly adapting this year and you can expect the same from us in the future.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Janet Kloppenburg with JJK Research.

Janet Kloppenburg — JJK Research — Analyst

Congratulations. Nice job. Frank, I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about the positive influence of the rent concessions and the government assistance on gross margin and if that will be a positive influence in the fourth quarter, to what degree sequentially and also we have lower clearance levels given your inventory levels may also positively influence the fourth quarter gross margin. And Dick, I know this is a tough question, but as you think about the pandemic and the recent news on vaccines, how do you think about planning sales and inventories for next year and when do you expect a nice rebound to emerge? Thanks.

Frank J. Conforti — Co-President, Chief Financial Officer, and Chief Operating Officer

Yeah, this is Frank, so you’re 100% correct. There were rent abatements recorded in the third quarter as well as government benefits really in Europe as it relates to real estate taxes. We do have some of those deals yet to complete that will favorably benefit the fourth quarter as well. With that being said, none of those were anywhere near the materiality of what drove our gross profit margin improvement in the quarter. It really was led by record low merch markdown rates with all three brands recording lower markdown rate on a year-over-year basis as well as our wholesale segment recording favorable merch margins on a year-over-year basis. That’s really what led the way for us in driving improvement in the Q3 margin.

Richard A. Hayne — Chief Executive Officer

Okay, Janet, planning sales and inventory for FY ’22. Yeah, you did give me a tough one there young lady. When we think about it, we clearly don’t know when this vaccine is going to become available. We don’t know when it does become available at what rate it will be available and we also don’t know how quickly the uptake will be from the consumers in this country. So it’s a very, very difficult question to answer about when we might see a return to I guess what we would put in quotes normalcy.

How are we planning? We’re really planning our spring-summer business on an omni-channel level because we don’t know with what the store channel will bring and we don’t know what the digital channel would bring, but we’re — have some degree of confidence around what the total will bring and I say some degree of confidence. So we plan on an omni-channel and we order inventory to that omni-channel level and then as it gets closer to the point in time we can split the inventory up to go to whichever channel the consumers are favoring. So I don’t know of any other way to do it without the potential of making really gross mistakes.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Marni Shapiro with The Retail Tracker.

Marni Shapiro — The Retail Tracker — Analyst

Hey, guys, congratulations. And in case I forget, stores look really fantastic particularly Urban has been just a lot of fun. Can you talk a little bit, you’ve had a pretty dramatic shift to DTC and Free People was already there. Can you talk about the differences you’ve seen in the Urban customer and the Anthro customer shifting online. Did they both move very quickly and have they both stayed there or did you see differences there as to how that sort of transpired over the last couple of months?

Richard A. Hayne — Chief Executive Officer

I don’t think that there has been many differences at all. The Urban and Anthropologie customers have shifted just about the same — at the same rate that the Free People customer has, it’s just that the stores are larger and they are more impactful and there’s more of them. So the penetration of stores for Urban and Anthropologie is greater, but overall, we see them — all three brands, we see them definitely migrating to digital.

And I do have to tell you that while our inventories have been extremely well controlled, in some cases, they are almost too well controlled, we could have benefited pretty greatly by having a little more home product. Right now, I think we’re sitting at around $26 million in back orders, which is primarily in home and a lot of that home product is Anthropologie home, but we don’t see much difference in the usage of digital.

Operator

Your last question comes from the line of Mark Altschwager with Baird.

Mark Altschwager — Baird — Analyst

Good evening. Thanks for taking my question and congrats on the quarter. First, a quick follow-up on the rent concession topic. I’m wondering if there’s any update you can share on maybe any bigger picture changes that are happening to rent structures and how that might change the margin algorithm from here in terms of leverage points on store comps and then I wanted to ask more broadly about just growth investments. Balance sheet remains in great shape, appears to be light at the end of the tunnel with a vaccine on the way. I’m just wondering how you’re thinking about ratcheting back up growth investments, China, Europe, Free People Movement, wholesale for the various brands, Nuuly, it would seem that there is a lot of levers there. Maybe if you could you just rank order how you’re thinking about those over the next couple of years? Thanks.

Frank J. Conforti — Co-President, Chief Financial Officer, and Chief Operating Officer

So, is that all, Mark? Let me start with rent. So I really look at rent in two buckets, one related to the pandemic itself. I think we focus really heavily on being able to achieve rent abatement for the periods that we were closed or significantly restricted from an occupancy perspective and I think we did a great job and we had good partners on the other side as well getting to help the abatements. Those were recorded in second quarter, third quarter, and fourth quarter and should largely be complete this year.

As you talk about sort of a step change function, I think our opportunity is, is we’ve got roughly about 10% of our fleet coming up for renewal over each of the next three years consecutively and actually between 10% and 12%. So think about little bit more than 35% or so of our fleet comes up for renewal and I think it’s up for us to remain incredibly disciplined as we look at those renewals and push as hard as we can for variable rent. I think percentage rent is something that’s really key for us as it’s going to be or has been and continue going to be very hard to predict where consumer traffic trends go. So for us as a percentage rent to sales is something that we would really like to push as hard as we can on in order to change that occupancy line item to become more of a variable base than a fixed base.

As it relates to SG&A, I think a lot of our SG&A depends on how holiday finishes and our view of the consumer and the channel penetration at that point in time. I think we have honestly consistently shown that we can be nimble and disciplined as necessary. At the same time, you are right, we do believe in the future growth of our brands and our initiatives and we believe it’s important to continue to invest in the future in order to grow our business. We always have seen that as the best way to reward our shareholders as well as our employees. So we will have more commentary on SG&A when we speak on the next quarter call. We have obviously not finished our plans. Like I said, a lot of it will depend on what our current views are on channel penetration at that point in time.

Richard A. Hayne — Chief Executive Officer

Okay, that’s all from our side. We thank you very much for joining us on the call today and we wish you all a very, very Happy Thanksgiving.

Operator

[Operator Closing Remarks]

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