What happened

Shares of retail chains Bed Bath & Beyond (NASDAQ:BBBY), Macy's (NYSE:M), and Ulta Beauty (NASDAQ:ULTA) were all clobbered in March. The companies closed many of their brick-and-mortar stores mid-month to support social distancing intended to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus. 

With stores closed, all three took big hits to revenue -- and to their stock prices, according to data provided by S&P Global Market Intelligence. 

  • Bed Bath & Beyond's shares fell 61.1% in March.
  • Macy's shares fell 62.9%.
  • Ulta Beauty's share price fell 31.7%.

BBBY Chart

BBBY data by YCharts.

So what

Here's how the month of March played out for each of these three retailers.

Bed Bath & Beyond

The company was already struggling with operational challenges when the month began. New CEO Mark Tritton laid out a credible turnaround plan in January, but March's disruptions threw several wrenches into it. The company closed all but 175 of its roughly 1,550 stores in the U.S. and Canada on March 23, promising to pay store employees through April 2. (It has since furloughed those employees, eliminating their pay until stores reopen while maintaining their healthcare benefits.) 

While the company insists that it has adequate cash to ride out the crisis ($1.4 billion as of the end of January, along with an additional $250 million available via its credit lines), credit-rating analysts haven't been impressed: Standard & Poor's cut Bed Bath & Beyond's credit rating to B+, a deep-junk level, on March 30. 

A Macy's sign on the outside of a store.

Image source: Macy's.

Macy's

Macy's had also been struggling before the pandemic's arrived in the U.S. Like Bed Bath & Beyond, it also announced a turnaround plan after a rough holiday season, only to have things go awry in March. Macy's shut down all its stores on March 17 and drew down its entire $1.5 billion credit line on March 24, only to lose its investment-grade credit rating (and its place in the S&P 500 Index; it's now a small-cap stock) as April began. 

Ulta Beauty

The beauty-store chain's stock fared better than that of its two peers in March, in large part because the company was in much better shape when the month began. Its strong earnings report on March 12 probably helped mitigate the effects of what happened after: It withdrew its guidance for the year, closed its brick-and-mortar stores on March 19, drew down $800 million from its credit line, delayed its expansion plans, and suspended its share-repurchase program. 

Rows of makeup testers in a beauty store.

Image source: Getty Images.

Through it all, CEO Mary Dillon has impressed retail-stock investors. Ulta has a strong balance under the circumstances, and it's striving to take care of its employees and shareholders. Idled store workers will continue to be paid through mid-April (and will keep their healthcare benefits thereafter), while those continuing to work in the fulfillment centers that support Ulta's online business are getting an extra $2 per hour. 

Now what

All three companies are now hoping that online sales can help offset some of the revenue lost while their brick-and-mortar stores are shut down. While there is some evidence emerging that consumers (at least affluent ones) are still spending online while sheltering at home, not all retailers will be able to generate much revenue through online channels.

Of the three here, Ulta is clearly in the best shape (and has a fairly robust online storefront). But all three will remain under pressure until the post-pandemic recovery gets underway.