A Weak Black Friday for Retailers

New York — Even with the help of the single-biggest shopping day of the year, Black Friday, key American retailers turned in a lackluster sales performance during November, getting the all-important holiday season off to a spotty start.

Of the 30 key retailers whose comps are tracked each month by HTT, there were almost as many losers as winners, and even among the gainers the increases were mostly on the modest side and couldn't match October's gains.

By far the biggest gainer during the month was a resurgent JCPenney, whose same-store sales shot up 12 percent.

A surprise winner during November was Sears — after months of steady declines, its same-store sales improved 2.8 percent. “Despite sluggishness early in the month, we enjoyed particularly strong customer response to our enhanced promotional events and had record sales the day after Thanksgiving,” said Sears Chairman and CEO Alan Lacy. “We had very solid performances in key gift categories, such as home electronics and tools, and our home appliance business had another strong month.” Specialty retail sales, he added, “were up in the mid-single-digit range, led by Sears Hardware, The Great Indoors and Outlet Stores.”

The biggest of the month's losers was home furnishings specialist Pier 1 Imports, where comps continued to slide, falling 9.1 percent. Not far behind was Gottschalk's, sinking 8.1 percent, and May Department Stores, skidding 7.9 percent, following a 2.3 percent drop the month before.

A surprisingly weak performer was Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, where same-store sales rose just 0.7 percent, held back by a poor 0.3 percent increase in its core Wal-Mart U.S. stores. Picking up the slack was the Sam's Club business, where comps improved 2.9 percent. Another disappointment was Kohl's, which had hit the comeback trail of late, but stumbled in November. Its same-store sales were flat, losing ground after a 6 percent gain during October.

With the notable exception of Penney, Bon-Ton and Sears; department stores as a class had a tough time of it during the month. May Department Stores, as stated, tumbled 7.9 percent; Federated fell 1.4 percent; and Dillard's dropped 2.7 percent. The Saks department store group slipped 0.6 percent, underperforming its upscale sibling Saks Fifth Ave., with its 6.8 percent gain.

Tops and bottoms

J.C. Penney +12.0%
Saks Fifth Ave 6.8
Bon-Ton 5.4
Family Dollar 5.2
Costco 5.0
Pier 1 -9.1%
Gottschalk's -8.1
May Dept. Stores -7.9
ShopKo Stores -6.4
Hancock Fabrics -5.7

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