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Comp crunch continues in November 

New York – Retailers continued to experience deteriorating comparable store sales in November – with the notable exceptions of Wal-Mart (comps up 3.4%) and Sam’s Club (up 0.4%).

Much was made of the shorter post-Thanksgiving sales period compared to November 2007, but by the same token many merchants remarked that volume softened through the weekend following a powerful Black Friday.

Outlooks for December were generally muted. Even at Wal-Mart, where the company said sales trends improved in home, apparel and electronics, evp and cfo Tom Schoewe cautioned, “We expect comparable-store sales for the December five-week period to be near the high end of our previously stated fourth quarter guidance of one to three percent.”

Target had an unsatisfactory month, and made no bones about it, noting its 10.4% comp drop was below the planned range of a 6% to 9% fall.

“Comparable-store sales in the home assortment declined more than 20%, with weakest performance in decorative home and garden, and the trim-a-tree assort within the seasonal holiday category,” Target said in its recorded review of the month.

The cheap-chic leader said it expected comps in December to register a mid-single to low-double-digit decline.

JCPenney made no mention of home in either its general statements or commentary on successful seasonal promotions. The 11.9% comp drop for November was in line with guidance, and JCP projected a low-double-digit decline for December.

same-store retail salesThe big mid-tier retailer said traffic in its off-mall stores continued to be “stronger and more consistent” than the mall formats – and reported that internet sales in November fell 18.2% from one year ago, compared to a November 2007 gain of 41.2% over November 2006.

At Macy’s Inc., with a comp drop of 13.3%, Terry Lundgren, chairman, president and ceo, declared, “November ended with a strong Thanksgiving weekend, including the largest Black Friday in the history of our company.” Macy’s is sticking with its previous guidance for Q4 comps to fall 1% to 6%.

At Bon-Ton, Tony Buccina, vice chairman and president - merchandising, pointed to home as one of the “strong performers” and also noted “record breaking results for the after-Thanksgiving sales on Friday and Saturday, evidence that we are capturing market share of the consumer spend.” Still, comps fell 16.0% in the month, and are down 7.7% year-to-date.

In its statement, Dillard’s (comps down 9.0%) said November sales were “significantly below trend in the juniors’ and children’s apparel and home and furniture categories.”

Kohl’s had the quite unusual distinction of posting the worst comp-store performance among the 14 chains tracked on monthly comps by Home Textiles Today, with same-store sales down 17.5%. The mid-tier chain was terse in remarks.

Kevin Mansell, president and ceo, stated: “November sales results were as expected, affected by both lower traffic than last year, and a significant sales shift due to a later Thanksgiving. Post-Thanksgiving results have been significantly stronger than our prior trend, driven by planned strong promotion. Consumers are focused on value, and we have incorporated that into our promotional efforts through the end of the year.”

In a broader retail measure, the 40-company Johnson Redbook Same-store Sales Index fell a steep 3.3% in November, more than double its 1.5% decline in October. Nearly three-fourths of the chain it tracks registered negative comps.

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