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January a time of modest comp gains for most key retailers

New York - An improving performance in the home category helped offset relentless winter storm impacts in January when most key retailers reported modest same stores sales increases.

Only two major retailers - JCPenney and Stein Mart - suffered comp declines. Both down 1.2%.

York, Pa.-based The Bon-Ton Stores, which churned only a 0.3% comp increase, with the smallest comp gain for the month among the top 13 retailers tracked by HTT, was "pleased with our positive comparable store sales increase despite inclement weather throughout the month," said Tony Buccina, vice chairman and president -merchandising."

The home business helped the 275-unit regional department store chain make the grade in the four-week period, as Bon-Ton's semi-annual home sale in the third week of January "kicked off the new year with double-digit increases for the category, with customers responding favorably to our new home assortments," Buccina added.

Dillard's Inc. and Costco Wholesale Corp. managed the highest comp returns - 6.0% each - also thanks to home product-related sales.

In the case of the Little Rock, Ark.-based department store, sales in the home and furniture category were "significantly above trend" during the four-week period at Dillard's.

Domestics and housewares were among the strongest performing categories, with comps in the teens, at Issaquah, Wash.-based Costco, even though the warehouse club said it estimated the winter weather conditions in the month negatively impacted its results by 1.0% to 1.5%.

Next in line with the best January comps was Pleasanton, Calif.-based Ross Stores. Its 3.0% comp increase was "well ahead of our expectations," said Michael Balmuth, vice chairman and ceo. Here, however, juniors and dresses were the best performing business segments.

BJ's Wholesale Club in Westborough, Mass. came in with the month's fourth highest comp gain - 2.7% - despite what is estimated to be a 2.5% negative impact from the effects of the "severe snow storms in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions."

Macy's Inc. said its same-store sales for fiscal 2010 were above plan and above 2009 in every Macy's region, as well as at Bloomingdale's.

"While sales in January were restrained by the series of snowstorms that caused widespread store closings along the East Coast and in the Southeast U.S., we continued to benefit from the underlying strength in our business," said Macy's Inc. chairman, president and ceo Terry Lundgren. "

Showing continued rapid growth is Macy's online business, which saw its sales at and combined go up 27.2% in January, 29.1% in the fourth quarter and 28.7% for the year.

Online and home were also solid at Menomonee Falls, Wis.-based Kohl's Corp.
"January's sales results benefitted from continued strength in our e-commerce business as sales increased 60% over last year," noted Kevin Mansell, chairman, president and ceo. "From a line-of-business perspective, men's and home outperformed the company on a comparable store sales basis."

While home - along with men's furnishings - was a top performer for Jacksonville, Fla.-based Stein Mart, it wasn't enough to pull it through the period.

Plano, Texas-based JCP justified its 1.2% comp decline in January.
"After strong sales during the first two months of the quarter, which resulted in quarterly sales coming in above the Company's expectations, January sales were impacted by lower levels of clearance inventory when compared to the same period last year, as well as by adverse weather conditions," the company explained.
The mid-tier department store chain's top-performing merchandise categories for the period included women's apparel and accessories. Sales of Liz Claiborne apparel and accessories "continued to perform ahead of expectations, attracting new and existing customers," and Sephora inside JCPenney also continued to attract new customers.

"This performance reflects the success of the company's focus on enhancing the center core of its stores to provide both style and value for modern customers," JCP concluded.



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