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Calendar shift works for retailers in Nov.

New York — Though it has been only days since the government officially announced that the United States is in a recession, retailers did not use the r-word in reporting November sales. In fact, many retailers turned in surprisingly decent performances — all things considered. Even the low numbers weren't as low as they have been recently.

"Our results for the month were slightly better than expected, and we were particularly pleased with our results in the latter part of the month as the holiday shopping season began," said Alan Lacy, chairman and ceo of Sears. And others echoed the sentiment.

In truth, the shift of Thanksgiving to fall one week earlier than usual resulted in additional holiday shopping days for the month, and allowed retailers to realize a spike in sales. Several retailers, such as Gottschalks and Elder-Beerman, said it would therefore be more accurate

to look at performances for both November and December together, to get a more accurate sales portrait.

Kohl's, which typically turns in an impressive performance, issued a similar caution. Though it outdid itself this month, reporting 25.9 percent comp store sales as well as a 44.5 percent increase in overall sales, Larry Montgomery, ceo, commented, "Our November sales increase reflects the benefit of the fiscal month ending one week closer to Christmas compared to last year. Due to this shift in the fiscal calendar, it is important to look at the months of November and December together." Kohl's continues to target a mid-single-digit comp-store sales increase for the two months combined.

Though Target Corp. reported comp-store sales of 11.4 percent for the month, it also gave adjusted numbers, comparing the four weeks ended Dec. 1, 2001 to the four weeks ended Dec. 2, 2000. That resulted in adjusted comps of -0.1 percent for the total company; 1.1 percent for Target; -3.0 percent for Mervyn's; and -8.8 percent for Marshall Field's.

Retailers also had to contend with unseasonably warm weather throughout much of the nation. Family Dollar said that its sales in apparel and holiday gifts were adversely affected by the warm weather, and softlines decreased 7.7 percent for the month.

Regardless of the weather, TJX Cos. was happy with its sales figures, reporting a comp sales gain of 3 percent. "We are pleased that sales for November exceeded our expectations despite the challenges of the very promotional retail environment and unseasonably warm weather in much of the United States," said Edmond English, president and ceo.

The home category seemed to benefit from the sales gains for some retailers. Sears' Lacy said, "Our full-line stores experienced strong comparable-store sales increases in several categories, including appliances, electronics, lawn and garden and home fashions." He added that The Great Indoors format delivered double-digit sales increases.

Ross Stores cited the home business as one of its strongest for the month, up in the low double digits.

Domestics, furniture and electronics were the top performers for Gottschalks this month. And Elder-Beerman also cited home, including furniture, as one of the month's leading segments.

JCPenney also counted home among its best categories for the month, along with men's and women's apparel. Its catalog and e-commerce sales decreased 31.6 percent, reflecting the elimination of catalog participation in retail promotional events, the company said.

Kmart was negatively impacted by internal restructuring, as a planned reduction in advertising and promotional activity adversely affected sales, said Chuck Conaway, chairman and ceo. "Recognizing the impact, we have adjusted our advertising and marketing strategy appropriately for the holiday season, and over the Thanksgiving weekend we recognized significant sales increases compared to last year."

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