• Andrea Lillo

U.S. retailers claim Dec. sales don't compare

New York — Most retailers were pleased with how December ended, which for some resulted in better-than-expected sales, with overall U.S. retail chain sales increasing 2.5 percent for December.

The season for most looked even healthier when combined with November sales, which several retailers believe is a more accurate way to report performance. The shift in the retail calendar resulted in fewer shopping days for Christmas compared with last year, and some said that reporting on December alone wasn't precise.

Under the National Retail Federation's 4-5-4 retail calendar, this year's December results do not include the week following Thanksgiving, making December 2001 sales look anemic compared to December 2000, with its extra week of sales.

But most were happy with the outcome anyway. "As anticipated, the month of December and the holiday season were challenging due to the continued weak economy," said Alan Lacy, chairman, Sears. "We were pleased, though, that our December sales results were at the upper end of our expectations."

Always a strong performer, Kohl's comp-store sales were 9.8 percent for both November and December, compared to December's 0.6 percent increase alone. Nevertheless, "We are very pleased with our results for the holiday season," said Larry Montgomery, ceo. "In a challenging retail environment, we continue to increase market share."

Other retailers with adjusted numbers included Federated's department stores, a negative 5.4 percent for November-December vs. a negative 8.7 percent for December; Saks, 3.5 percent for SDSG (Saks Department Store Group) and 1.9 percent for total company vs. decreases of 7.5 percent and 7.2 percent, respectively; and Gottschalks, a 0.2 percent decrease vs. a 4.5 percent decrease.

In addition, Dillards' November/December comp-store sales slid 2 percent compared to December's 4 percent drop. At ShopKo, the combined month's drew a 0.4 percent decrease, compared to the December 5.0 percent decline. Elder-Beerman, which had a December comp-store sales decrease of 7.5 percent, reported November and December comp sales declines of 4.1 percent.

Target Corp. also readjusted its numbers, comparing five weeks ended Jan. 5 to five weeks ended Jan. 6, 2001. This resulted in the Target division showing a 10.1 percent loss instead of a 1.8 percent increase; Mervyn's with a 6.1 increase instead of a 0.6 percent decrease; and Marshall Field's with a 2.3 percent decrease instead of a 10 percent decrease, for an overall company performance of 8.6 percent instead of 0.6 percent.

"Sales for the corporation were above plan in December, primarily due to exceptional strength at Target Stores," said Bob Ulrich, chairman and ceo, Target Corp.

Kmart, with a 1 percent decline in December comp-sales, said that it was continuing to review its current and prospective liquidity position and business plan for 2002 and 2003 fiscal years, and is in discussions with its lenders regarding its existing and possible supplemental financing facilities.

Wal-Mart Stores, which did not adjust its figures to factor in the calendar shift, reported a 16.2% increase over last year on sales for the five-week period ending Jan. 4, 2002.

At JCPenney, December sales benefited from improved merchandise assortments and enhanced marketing events, the company said. It added that catalog and

e-commerce sales decreased as expected, with catalog sales reflecting the elimination of catalog participation in retail promotional events as well as the impact of a promotional retail environment.

Federated's James Zimmerman, chairman and ceo, was satisfied with the company's sales performance. It's sales performance, an 8.7% decline in December sales, "was driven in part by markdowns."

Hancock Fabrics led the group with its 17.8 percent comp store increase.

At Sears, Lacy said that home fashions business in softlines continued its strong momentum. At JCPenney, it was the best merchandise category, with a double-digit increase for December.

However, at Saks' SDSG, soft home showed softer sales performances for the month. Family Dollar saw an increase of 3.5 percent in softlines for the period.

Pier 1's Marvin Girouard, chairman and ceo, said, "We were very pleased with December sales, increased traffic, and the slight increase in average ticket."

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