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Off-pricers Ross, TJX lead April comps

New York - The effects of a warm March and an earlier-than-usual Easter holiday did little to dampen comparable sales for six of the 10 key retailers tracked monthly by HTT, yet created a challenging environment for the three mid-level department store chains on the list.

Keeping their steady stride of strong sales were off-price chains Ross Stores and TJX Cos., posting the highest comp increases - 7.0% and 6.0%, respectively, for the month of April, "well ahead of expectations" for both.

"Our continued ability to deliver a wide array of name brand bargains to today's value-focused consumers drove broad-based merchandise and geographic gains in both periods," said Michael Balmuth, Ross Stores' vice chairman and ceo.

TJX's sales strengths were also "broad-based", noted ceo Carol Meyrowitz, "as our U.S., Canadian and European businesses continue to outperform. Comp sales were once again driven by significant increases in customer traffic, which indicates that our values and offerings of current fashions and great brands are attracting and resonating with consumers."

The other retailers on the plus-side of comps for the four weeks were: Costco with 4.0%; Duckwall-ALCO with 2.5%; Macy's with 1.2%; and Target with 1.1% -- which for the latter represented its "strongest quarterly comparable-store sales performance in more than six years," having received "an early-season boost from the combination of warm weather and an earlier Easter," explained Gregg Steinhafel, chairman, president and ceo. "Target's underlying sales trend remains quite healthy, as guests respond to a unique combination of fashion and great prices, combined with the convenience and value created by our remodel program and 5% REDcard Rewards."

April marked another consecutive month of comp increases for Duckwall, which said shoppers have been noticing its improved product offerings and value proposition.

"Sales were positive in all lines of our commodities division as well as our furniture, plastic storage, decor, giftware, and hardware departments," said president and ceo Rich Wilson. "Warmer temperatures during the first quarter also helped to drive an early spring season and contributed to strong increases in several of our seasonal departments such as outdoor living, horticulture, and sporting goods."

E-commerce remains a key driver of business for Macy's, which saw its online sales for macys.com and bloomingdales.com combined jump by 29.9% in April and 33.7% in the first quarter, "positively affecting" the company's same-store sales by 1.5% points year to date.

Terry Lundgren, chairman, president and ceo, said Macy's continues "to see the power of our omni-channel strategy in driving sales online and in the stores."

The Bon-Ton Stores took the hardest comp hit in April, down 5.0%, despite efforts to offset weather and holiday impacts.

"While sales from our Community Day event, which was shifted to the end of April this year from February last year, exceeded the prior year's results, the overall impact on April sales from this shift and other adjustments we made to our promotional calendar was disappointing and we have taken corrective action," explained Brendan Hoffman, president and ceo.

Still, there was good news for the soft home category, which was among Bon-Ton's "best performing businesses" along with hard home, fine jewelry, shoes, cosmetics and accessories.

Online sales here, too, were a bright spot.

"We are pleased to see continued growth in our e-commerce business, which posted double-digit sales increases," Hoffman added.

Home was also an area of strength in April at Kohl's, which nevertheless posted the second-biggest total company comp dip - 3.5% -- among key retailers.

And specifically linens were singled out as one of the four segments with the strongest comp sales results in the month at Stein Mart, even though the mid-tier chain saw its total company same store sales were negative 1.6%.

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