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October not so spooky for key retailers; comps up for most

New York - With a shift this year in Halloween, the spooky holiday didn't get the credit for a decent comp turnout for almost all key retailers - nine out of 10 - who today reported their October sales.

Rather, the strong performances seen by most was more general in nature, as discounters through department stores tracked monthly by HTT experienced gains as the result of movement in multiple categories and successes stemming from a variety of growth initiatives as well as improved traffic.

Leading the pack was TJX Cos., which reported a 7.0% comp. October was the first time in several months that its direct competitor, Ross Stores, did not experience equal success. Instead, Ross Stores came in with a 4.0% comp, positioning it as the fourth highest among the key retailers last month.

TJX's momentum in October, explained ceo Carol Meyrowitz, "continued at all divisions and customer traffic drove comp increases across the board, which we believe speaks to the staying power and appeal of our great brands and fashions at compelling values. We believe the momentum we are seeing in all of our businesses, along with the exciting gift initiatives and marketing campaigns that we have planned, bode well for the holiday selling season. We are looking forward to a strong fourth quarter as well as to the longer term future growth of our company."

Ross also performed at the high end of its expectations, noted vice chairman and ceo Michael Balmuth, and as such is expecting to report "another quarter of solid, above-plan growth in both sales and earnings. We also remain well positioned as a value retailer in the current environment, and our business continues to benefit from our ongoing ability to deliver a wide assortment of fresh and exciting name brand fashions to today's bargain-oriented consumers."

Driving Macy's 4.1% comp increase were "the key growth strategies we put in place three years ago [that] continue to provide us new opportunities for continuous improvement in driving sales," explained Terry Lundgren, chairman, president and ceo.

"We are feeling confident about our prospects for the upcoming holiday season and have increased our sales guidance for the fall season, despite the interruption caused by Hurricane Sandy in the first few days of the fourth quarter," he added.

Online sales for macys.com and bloomingdales.com combined were up 44.6% in October, 40.4% in the third quarter, and 36.8% year to date. Online sales are included in the same-store sales calculation for Macy's Inc.

Making a turnaround last month was The Bon-Ton Stores, which posted a 3.7% comp. Brendan Hoffman, president and ceo, cited home, furniture and intimate apparel among the weakest performing categories. Better off were ladies' and men's outerwear, dresses and shoes, which were the strongest category performers, with double-digit gains. Ecommerce was also a highlight for the period with its double-digit gains.

Hitting the low end of its monthly expectations was Target Corp. with a 2.4% comp. Still, its third quarter comparable-store sales increase of 2.9% was in line with guidance, noted Gregg Steinhafel, chairman, president and ceo.

"As we enter the fourth quarter we feel very good about our holiday season merchandising and marketing plans and our ability to deliver outstanding value for our guests while generating strong financial performance for our shareholders," he added.

At Alco, domestics was among the stronger performers in October, along with furniture, housewares, toys, sporting goods, and stationery, said Rich Wilson, president and ceo.

And at Stein Mart, which reported the smallest comp increase -- 1.7%, linens were also a strong suit in the month.

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