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Markdowns result in retail sales gain in Jan.

New York — After a difficult holiday season, retailers saw adequate sales increases in a clearance-heavy period.

In addition, some retailers noted that comparisons were skewed by last year's five-week January and 53-week year, and thus provided adjusted numbers to reflect a more accurate sales picture.

Target Corp., for example, saw total sales for the four weeks ended Feb. 2 increase 13.5 percent when excluding the extra week, as opposed to a decrease of 9.0 percent. This resulted in a 16.8 percent increase for the Target division, rather than a 6.6 percent decrease, and 3.2 percent and 4.7 percent declines at Mervyn's and Marshall Field's, respectively, instead of 21.1 percent and 24.8 percent declines.

"Sales for the corporation were above plan in January, reflecting continuing strength at Target Stores," said Bob Ulrich, chairman and ceo.

Elder-Beerman showed a sales decline of 0.8 percent instead of 16.7 percent for January and a decrease of 1.2 percent for the year, rather than a 2.0 percent decrease when excluding the extra week.

Value City's January sales increased 0.5 percent, instead of declining 19.5 percent.

At Jo-Ann Stores, net sales increased 7.5 percent for the year when it excluded last year's 53rd week.

Gottschalks' same-store sales decreased 4.6 percent instead of 22.7 percent when it excluded the additional week in last year's January, and sales slid 6.5 percent instead of 24.2 percent.

Federated Department Stores had annual sales totaling $16.9 billion this year, compared to $18.4 billion for the 53 weeks of fiscal 2000, which reflects the extra week in the retail calendar, as well as the closing of the Stern's division and the downsizing of Fingerhut this year.

Other retailers had double-digit increases. Retail giant Wal-Mart's sales grew 13.8 percent over last year, with $15.4 billion in sales for the four-week period. The Wal-Mart division grew 16.5 percent, and its Sam's Club climbed 12.3 percent in January. Costco and Family Dollar were the two other chain stores that saw double-digit sales growth.

Sears slumped 2.3 percent in sales for the four-week period, while comp-store sales declined 3.4 percent.

"January sales results were soft compared to last year, reflecting a decrease in promotion and clearance activity as a result of our improved inventory position entering the year," said Alan Lacy, chairman and ceo, Sears, Roebuck & Co.

JCPenney department stores, however, saw comp-store sales increase by 5.9 percent. Home was one of the best performers of the month for the retailer, along with women's accessories and women's apparel. The company's catalog and e-commerce sales decreased 24.3 percent. E-commerce sales are inlcuded in catalog, and totaled $21 million in January compared to $23 million last January.

Saks Inc.'s department store division saw soft sales for soft home in January. "While January is primarily a clearance-driven period, we are seeing positive momentum at SDSG [Saks Department Store Group] attributable to the execution of our customer-focused strategies and the diversification of SDSG's market position," said Brad Martin, chairman and ceo. The company saw sales decrease 1.7 percent compared to last year, while the Saks Department Store Group had a sales increase of 3.0 percent and a comp-store climb of 7.9 percent.

At Ross Stores, which saw same-store sales increase 12 percent for January, John Call, senior vp and cfo said, "Sales continue to benefit from an improved flow of fresh and exciting name brand fashions for the family and the home at compelling discounts, resulting in broadbased strength throughout most markets and merchandise categories."

Pier 1 Imports saw same-store sales grow by 3.7% for the month. Chairman and ceo Marvin Girouard was satisfied with the month's results. "We were pleased with sales in January, which were driven by an increase in average ticket and traffic. Sales momentum picked up throughout the month, as we transitioned from holiday clearance to our new spring merchandise assortment."

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