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Cecile Corral

December Comps on Plus Side for Most Key Retailers

NEW YORK - The harsh winter weather dumping snow over swaths of the country could not keep the sun from shining at select stores in December, when almost all of the 13 key retailers tracked by HTT posted same stores sales gains.
     Only Stein Mart was unable to pull through the critical holiday selling season, instead suffering a 1.9 decline in comps and a 2.3% dip in sales to $166.3 million from last December's $170.2 million.
     And yet, ironically, it was this Jacksonville, Fla.-based mid-tier off-price department store that cited home textiles specifically as one of its three top-performing categories, exceeding the company trend, for the month. The others were ladies' career sportswear and accessories.
     By comparison, 264-unit Stein Mart's ladies' special sizes, men's sportswear and ladies' casual sportswear experienced weaker trends.
     Soft home was also among the "best-performing" businesses for The Bon-Ton Stores, based in York, Pa., during the five-week period.
     "Our December comparable store sales came in positive over the prior year period despite severe snow storms, which we estimate impacted our sales by approximately 150 to 200 basis points," explained Tony Buccina, vice chairman and president, merchandising.
     He added that Bon-Ton "ended the month with inventories fresher than prior year. Our remaining fall inventories are priced aggressively and we are well positioned for a successful January semi-annual home and furniture sale."
     Duckwall-Alco's 1.1% comp gain last month further pushed the 23-state regional discounter on its turn-around track. The company successfully delivered a 0.4% same-store sales increase from August through December, recuperating from a six-month sweep of comp decreases in the first six months of 2010.

WINNERS

Same-store sales % change

WINNERS

J.C.Penney

7.0%

Costco Wholesale Corp.

4.0%

Ross Stores

4.0%

Kohl's Corp.

3.9%

Macy's Inc.

3.9%

BJ's Wholesale Club

3.8%

J.C.Penney

3.7%

LOSER

Stein Mart Inc.

(1.9)%

     Unfortunately, its home décor business wasn't a bright spot in the chain's "critical November and December holiday period," as the category was singled out among departments that performed below company trend in the five weeks, said Rich Wilson, president and ceo.
     Instead, food and consumables, electronics, apparel, small appliances and housewares were the strongest holiday season performers for the Abilene, Kan.-based retailer.
     Home helped drag the December performance of Minneapolis-based Target Corp., which nonetheless reported a comp gain, albeit modest, of 0.9% for the month.
     "December sales were below expectations, as strength in grocery and apparel was offset by softness in electronics, toys and some home categories," said Gregg Steinhafel, chairman, president and ceo. "Sales in some key gift-giving categories moved earlier into the holiday season, and lower margin items drove a higher portion of sales than expected."

"December sales were below expectations, as strength in grocery and apparel was offset by softness in electronics, toys and some home categories."
-GREGG STEINHAFEL, Target

     He added that Target's 5% "REDcard Rewards" program is delivering the expected results, and the 49-state 1,752-unit discounter is "confident that we will continue to generate profitable growth, even while consumer buying patterns exhibit volatility across categories and over time."
     Off-price chain competitors Ross Stores in Pleasanton, Calif., and TJX Companies in Framingham, Mass., were equally satisfied with their respective 4.0% and 2.0% December comp increases which exceeded expectations for both.
     "I am extremely pleased with December's sales results, as we significantly exceeded our plans during this important period," said Carol Meyrowitz, president and ceo, TJX Cos. "Our 2% comp store sales growth was achieved on top of a very strong 14% increase last year, a much more difficult comparison than those faced by most other retailers, with our largest business, Marmaxx, delivering a 2% comp store sales increase over a 15% increase last year. Comp store sales continue to be driven by growth in the number of customer transactions as value, fashion, and great brands continue to resonate with customers."
     Ross Stores' Michael Balmuth, vice chairman and ceo, said he was "pleased to report" that both sales and margins in December "were well ahead of our expectations. These results are especially noteworthy considering the very challenging prior year comparisons." The chain's juniors and dresses were the strongest merchandise categories, while Florida continued to be the top performing market.
     Not surprisingly, e-commerce grew for several key retailers in December as shoppers took advantage of the convenience and increasing ease of online shopping - as well as retailers' expanded holiday promotions such as free shipping and web-only deals over the five weeks.
     For Cincinnati-based Macy's Inc., online sales at its macys.com and bloomingdales.com websites combined were up 28.4% in December and 28.8% in 2010 year-to-date, compared with the same periods in 2009.
     Building on this movement, Macy's will soon be expanding the technology, merchandising, marketing and creative functions of its e-commerce organization, as well as building a major new online fulfillment center.
     Menomonee Falls, Wis.-based Kohl's Corp. was "pleased with our e-commerce business, as significant investments in IT and distribution helped us achieve a 66% increase in sales this month," noted Kevin Mansell, chairman, president and ceo.
     Bon-Ton's e-commerce sales more than doubled in December from the prior year period.

DECEMBER SALES FOR KEY RETAILERS

Five weeks ended January 1, 2011 (dollar amounts in millions) a
 

2010 SALES

2009 SALES

TOTAL % CHG.

SAME-STORE % CHG.

BJ's Wholesale Club b

$1,250.0

$1,160.0

7.3

3.8

The Bon-Ton Stores Inc.

$510.8

$511.1

(0.1)

0.1

Costco Wholesale Corp. c d

$9,190.0

$8,260.0

11.0

4.0

Dillard's Inc.

$1,068.7

$1,005.9

6.0

7.0

Duckwall-ALCO Stores Inc.

$69.4

$64.7

7.3

1.1

Fred's Inc.

$210.6

$209.3

1.0

0.2

J. C. Penney Company Inc.

$2,955.0

$2,889.0

2.3

3.7

Kohl's Corp.

$3,192.0

$3,014.0

5.9

3.9

Macy's Inc.

$4,619.0

$4,422.0

4.5

3.9

Ross Stores Inc.

$1,008.0

$934.0

8.0

4.0

Stein Mart Inc.

$166.3

$170.2

(2.3)

(1.9)

Target Corp.

$9,882.0

$9,741.0

1.4

0.9

The TJX Companies Inc.

$3,000.0

$2,900.0

6.0

2.0

43 WEEKS

 

2010 SALES

2009 SALES

TOTAL % CHG.

SAME-STORE % CHG.

BJ's Wholesale Club b

$9,987.8

$9,211.9

8.4

4.7

The Bon-Ton Stores Inc.

$2,800.4

$2,779.7

0.7

1.0

Costco Wholesale Corp. c d

$29,780.0

$26,830.0

11.0

4.0

Dillard's Inc.

$5,643.6

$5,539.2

2.0

3.0

Duckwall-ALCO Stores Inc.

$447.1

$449.4

(0.5)

(2.5)

Fred's Inc.

$1,713.0

$1,663.0

3.0

2.2

J. C. Penney Company Inc.

$16,855.0

$16,616.0

1.4

2.7

Kohl's Corp.

$17,566.0

$16,380.0

7.2

4.6

Macy's Inc.

$23,695.0

$22,236.0

6.6

4.7

Ross Stores Inc.

$1,118.7

$1,155.3

(3.2)

(1.8)

Stein Mart Inc.

$61,404.0

$59,147.0

3.8

2.1

Target Corp.

$51,522.0

$49,406.0

4.3

2.4

The TJX Companies Inc.

$20,600.0

$19,000.0

8.0

4.0

a. Reporting periods vary from chain to chain.
b. Excluding gasoline, merchandise comparable club sales increased 1.4% for the five-week period. Year-to-date merchandise comparable club sales excluding gasoline increased 2.7%.
c. Total sales results include sales from the company's Mexico joint venture. Without those sales, the increase would have been 8.0%.
d. December comp club results are for the U.S. division. Excluding the positive impacts of inflation in gasoline prices and strengthening foreign currencies, comparable club sales for the month were up 3% in the U.S. division, 8% in the international division, and 4% for the total company.
e. Because it is on a different fiscal calendar than most of the other key retailers on this list, Costco's year-to-date sales and comp results reflect the past 18-week period. Excluding the positive impact of inflation in gasoline and strengthening foreign currencies, comparable club sales were up 3% in the U.S., 9% in the international division, and 5% for the total company year to date.

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