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Retailers look for Santa's gifts

Don Hogsett, Andrea Lillo -- Home Textiles Today, January 5, 2004

Looks like last-minute shopping brought a more positive end to the holiday season for most retailers, who slashed prices throughout in order to attract customers.

"Like everyone else, Christmas came late for us," said Steve Goldberg, president, Brylane Lifestyle Group, who said the holiday season was good for the retailer. "We had a strong Halloween, and our customers didn't get into the Christmas mode until late."

He added, "The customer is definitely out there bargain hunting. Whenever anything went on sale, it went first."

Many retailers expected customers to shop closer to Christmas, and that included Wal-Mart. More sales occurred even later than in prior years, it said, and for December its comp store sales tracked nearer the low end of its three to five percent range. The home area was one of the weakest categories for the period, though its sell through in its seasonal merchandise was better than last year.

Domestics at Target Stores became one of the leading merchandise performers for the month, Target Corp. said, and the division was above plan for the week ended December 27 and near the low end of its planned five to seven percent increase for the month. For the company overall, it was also up for the week ended December 27th, and below the planned four to six percent increase for the month.

The National Retail Federation reported that its Retail Sector Performance Index, which measures retail executives' evaluations of monthly sales, customer traffic, average transaction, employment, inventories, and sales outlook, grew at a faster pace in December (56.2 percent) than the previous month (52.1 percent) and was 12.0 percent above last year's period.

"This has clearly been a much stronger holiday season than last year," said Tracy Mullin, NRF president and ceo. "Consumers have not only shown that they are ready to spend, but it appears they are spreading their spending more equally among diverse retail segments. This is a great sign for the industry." The NRF last week continued to project that holiday sales would increase 5.7 percent over last year.

Online retailing became one of the stronger segments for the industry overall, as shoppers went to the web in higher numbers this year. Gift cards also increased in use, though retailers usually don't record those sales until the cards are spent.

Wal-Mart's shopping card balance is up more than 20 percent, it said, and it expected a large percentage of those balances would be spent the last week of December.

Purchases for gift cards were also strong at Target Stores, Target Corp. said, but that revenue will not be recorded until they are redeemed.

At Brylane, gift certificates are also increasing in importance, as is business sthe week before New Year's Eve.

Bloomingdales' New York store had a merry season, said Lester Gribetz, senior vp, home fashions, especially in the higher end. "Everything better sold." Housewares was "phenomenal," he said, and rugs, food and parts of tabletop were also strong. He expected post-Christmas to also be positive as it is usually a strong period for Bloomingdales.

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