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Jennifer Marks

Baby Steps

May 23, 2011

Baby Steps

There was encouraging news coming out of the recent round of quarterly earnings reports as several retailers pointed to improving business in the home department.

JCPenney hailed bedding and bath as leaders in the home department. Macy's home business was "very strong," TJX Cos. said the HomeGoods division was a big winner.

Home was also strong at Ross and Stein Mart - the latter coming as significant after last year's struggles with the department. And at Williams-Sonoma, nearly every division exceeded expectations during the first quarter, with home textiles among the star categories at three nameplates.

News on the pricing front was more of mixed bag. Target, Ross and Stein Mart copped to bigger price increases coming in the second half. Cost Plus copped to de-specing, in way, telling analysts it's working to re-develop its textiles to meet price points. (I suspect that would be developing down.)

Macy's said most of its pricing tests have done all right, with the most resistance coming in moderate categories. Walmart, predictably, vowed it would be the last retailer in the universe to raise prices.

Interestingly, Williams-Sonoma - which has been investing its boffo earnings into advancing ecommerce and social network marketing - was asked if it would raise prices to offset the investment by fattening margin. Executives said it would not.

Companies that had lousy quarters blamed the weather and the economy. Companies that had good quarters said they're still worried about the economy.

It appears the business is inching back, if only in baby steps.