Retailers blame sales dip on calendar shift

New York — With Thanksgiving occurring later than usual, November proved taxing for most retailers, and the sales index declined 0.5 percent for the month.

Fewer shopping days in November were the culprit, retailers said, though sales bounced back during the long Thanksgiving weekend.

Hancock Fabrics was the only retailer to record a double-digit comp increase for November, at 12.8 percent, with Wal-Mart placing a distant second and third (a 2.8 percent increase at Wal-Mart Stores, and a 2.6 percent one at Wal-Mart Corp.). Two-thirds of the 31 retailers reporting same-store sales posted negative numbers.

Wal-Mart did report double-digit increases for total sales, with company sales growing 10.3 percent, the Wal-Mart division up 10.5 percent, and Sam's Club up 7.0 percent.

The results of Thanksgiving weekend exceeded both recent trends and prior expectations at Federated, said James Zimmerman, chairman and ceo, but he was disappointed with the sales for the month overall. The department store chain reported a 7.4 percent same-store sales decline for the month. "It is difficult to forecast December sales on the basis of what we have seen in November because, while Thanksgiving weekend was strong, sales earlier in the month were weaker than expected," he said.

Sears' same-store sales also dropped, by 10.9 percent. "As expected, Thanksgiving week results were an encouraging kickoff to the holiday season," said Alan Lacy, chairman and ceo. The company also reported its home fashions category declined in the low 20's, while The Great Indoors was up in the low single digits.

"With the later Thanksgiving, sales of holiday gifts got off to a slower start than we had planned," said Larry Montgomery, ceo, Kohl's. "Post-Thanksgiving sales were up on a comparable-store basis on top of a strong performance last year, giving us confidence that we will have a good holiday season." The company's comp-store sales decreased 3.4 percent for the month, though it is targeting a mid-single-digit increase for the November/December period.

Gottschalks set a new record for the Thanksgiving holiday, posting its largest volume day on Black Friday, Nov. 29, with a 15.0 percent increase for the day, said Jim Famalette, president and ceo. He added that the retailer saw a 31.0 percent same-store sales increase on Sat., Nov. 30, compared to last year. "We are encouraged by the good start of the 2002 holiday season but remain cautiously optimistic, given the uncertain economic climate, as well as having the bulk of the holiday selling season, three and a half very important weeks, still ahead of us," he said.

Retailers were generally happy with the performance of their home categories. The Wal-Mart stores division of Wal-Mart found domestics one of its leading performers for the month. It also noted that both average ticket and traffic growth were up, comprising approximately 60 percent of the comp increase. Its Sam's Club division also cited domestics as one of its best categories.

Discounter Target cited domestics as one of the merchandise leaders for the month of November.

Home was a star category for JCPenney. The retailer also noted that, though its catalog sales decreased this month by 10.2 percent, its e-commerce sales, which are included with the catalog numbers, were significantly above last year.

The Saks Department Store Group of Saks Inc. also reported that its soft home was one of the top performers.

Linens placed as one of the two best categories at Stein Mart, while Ross Stores said that merchandise categories continued their year-to-date pattern, and home was one of the strong performers, with a high-single-digit increase for November.

Still, home remained soft for other retailers. The MarMaxx group of TJX, which includes T.J. Maxx and Marshall's, saw the home category slide 1.0 percent, while the division overall was down 2.0 percent. HomeGoods and A.J. Wright both brought in positive increases of 2.0 and 5.0 percent, respectively. Its Winners and T.K. Maxx divisions posted flat comps.

The home category also slipped at Dillard's with a 7.0 percent decline.

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