These Retailers Need Holiday Sales to Survive

Photograph by JGI/Jamie Grill

Every retailer focuses on the holidays. For some, however, the shopping season isn’t just a frantic ordeal but a potentially life-and-death experience. Missing out on the glut of gift-giving can wreck a handful of holiday-dependent companies, which helps explain why so much attention is paid to the pace of shopping Thanksgiving week.

Nowhere is this dynamic more pronounced than in the Silicon Valley offices of Shutterfly, a company that specializes in printing photos on calendars, pillowcases and, above all, the humble holiday card. Shutterfly collects slightly more than half of its annual revenue in the final three months of the year–and that’s also typically the only period in which it posts a profit. In the past three years, the company’s fourth quarter income represented roughly three times its annual income.

If Christmas is cancelled, Shutterfly is finished. And in that dependency it has plenty of peers in Corporate America. Bloomberg Businessweek analyzed three years of financial returns for the nation’s biggest retailers to find out which companies are most reliant on holiday shopping. GameStop ranked second to Shutterfly in holiday exposure. On average the video-game retailer has collected four out of $10 sales dollars in its holiday quarter in the past three years.

The rest of the top 10 list includes some of retail’s biggest players, with L Brands, Amazon, Best Buy and Cabela’s all taking in about one-third of revenue over the holiday interval.

Some retail giants probably care less about holiday shopping than one might think. Apple, for example, typically gets only 29 percent of its annual revenue over the holiday quarter. The Gap collects just a few percentage points more while Wal-Mart collects a few less. These companies will still be in a frenzy to lure shoppers the next few weeks, but they have a healthy level of hedging over the holidays.

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