What happened

Shares of high-end online consignment retailer The RealReal (NASDAQ:REAL) fell sharply at the open of trading on Nov. 10, quickly losing 13.5% of their value. By 10:30 a.m. EST or so, the stock had pared that loss a bit but was still lower by nearly 5%. The company's after-the-close earnings release on Nov. 9 was the big driver here.

So what

The RealReal provides a platform through which consumers can sell unwanted luxury goods. In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, with people stuck at home, more consumers have been buying online. But that hasn't translated to increased sales for this company. To put some numbers on that, The RealReal saw a year-over-year revenue increase of 11% in the first quarter, which wasn't materially impacted by the pandemic. And then the bottom fell out, with a 21% revenue decline in the second quarter. That was a period during which many other online retailers were seeing increased sales driven by physical store closures, social distancing, and people working from home.  

A woman holding up her arms, which are adorned with gold bangles

Image source: Getty Images.

The third quarter, which the company just reported, didn't do much to help the story here. Management tried to put a positive spin on things, noting that sales increased 16% sequentially from the second quarter. However, sales were still 4% below the same period in 2019. Revenue fell 5%, leading to red ink of $0.49 per share compared with a loss of $0.30 in the same quarter of the prior year. No wonder investors were a bit downbeat. The RealReal appears to be one of the few online retailers that hasn't seen a benefit from the broader COVID-19-related online sales boost.  

Now what

It's hard to say exactly what's going on with the company's business because of the complex retail environment created by the coronavirus. With sales starting to come back, it could simply be that buying luxury goods wasn't what consumers were thinking about as COVID-19 ravaged the world. Or it could be that online sales of consigned luxury goods is something of a niche market that will be hard to scale because luxury buyers want more pampering than a website can provide. That last fact is an interesting one to consider, given that The RealReal just opened another physical store during the third quarter. Long-term investors need to think carefully about the big picture here.  

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.