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Comps up but still lackluster in January's first week

New York -- The Johnson Redbook Retail Sales Index was up 2.1% in the first week of January.

Month-to-date, January was up 2.1% compared to January of last year, relative to a revised target of a 2.3% gain. Month-over-month showed a 0.3% drop, relative to a target of a flat reading.

January is a five-week month on the retail calendar ending February 2.

Sales were below plan for most companies in our model in the first week of January, said Catlin Levis, Redbok analyst.

"Shoppers continue to redeem gift cards in the post Christmas season," she continued. "Retailers noted that consumers were motivated by price as January clearance sales got under way and stores posted markdowns to move seasonal inventories."

Clearance will be the theme in January, with most retailers planning to bring in new spring merchandise around the middle of the month. Promotional clearance and price discounting, especially to stores with large stocks of unsold holiday goods, are expected to cut profit margins."

Levis noted that January is a five-week month, instead of the usual four weeks, to allow the 4-5-4 retail calendars to re-calibrate, as occurs every several years.

"For same-store sales comparisons, retailers usually compare the first four weeks of the month with the equivalent year ago period; they typically treat the final week as a separate entity," she explained. "This final week is not carried forward, since it would cascade the slippage through the entire year. Not all retailers, however, treat the calendar shift like this, and investors should expect some lack of uniformity. Therefore, there may be confusion in the way that monthly same-store sales releases are presented during the 2013 fiscal year, beginning in February."

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