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Department stores widen comp advantage

New York– Driven by early and aggressive promotions, free gifts and early-bird specials, same-store retail sales improved by 2.9% during the fourth week of November, but not as much as they had in the three prior weeks, when sales had climbed as much as 3.4%,the Johnson Redbook Indexreported.

It was a big week for department stores, where comps jumped up by 4.9%, rising three times as fast as the slender 1.6% increase recorded at the nation's mass merchants. Reflecting a recent shift in buying patterns, department store sales climbed steadily higher through the first four weeks of November, from a 3.8% gain during the opening week, to the more recent 4.9% gain. But sales have steadily weakened at discounters, beginning the month with a 3.1% increase, and gradually subsiding to a 1.6% gain during the final week of the month.

Scoping out the post-Thanksgiving weekend, the official start to the shopping season, Redbook analyst Catlin Levis observed, “Generally, the weekend did not change existing patterns: those who were already doing well finished strongly, while those who were struggling did not.”

Looking ahead to the final laps of the shopping season, Levis set a preliminary target of a 3.4% year-over-year gain in December comps.

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