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April Cruel Month For CE Retail Sales

5/23/2011 12:01:00 AM Eastern
NEW YORK – Bad weather, falling prices and Easter- related spending kept a lid on CE and appliance revenue last month, although e-tail sales told a different story.

According to estimates from the U.S. Commerce Department, April sales for electronics and appliance retailers edged up just 0.9 percent year-overyear to $8.4 billion, but fell 2.2 percent from March.

Within that channel, Conn’s said CE sales fell 4.5 percent for the first quarter ended April 30 on a 20.5-percent decline in average TV selling prices and weakness in PCs and digital imaging. Majap revenue fell 7.5 percent on lower sales and pricing.

Broadline merchants reported similar downturns.Sears Holdings said slumps in its majap and CE businesses largely contributed to comp sale declines of 5.2 percent at Sears and 1.6 percent atKmart for the three months ended April 30, while Target cited CE as one of its weakest performers in April. At Costco, CE comps fell by the low double digits last month despite slightly higher TV unit volume that was offset by lower prices. TV was also a drag on BJ’s April sales, the wholesale club said.

Yet for e-tailers, CE was one of the top-performing categories during the first quarter as more shoppers continued to migrate online. According to estimates by Internet market research firm comScore, Web sales of CE, computers and peripherals, and gaming hardware and software each grew at least 13 percent over the prior-year period, with only books and magazines matching their sales pace.

Total e-commerce sales rose 12 percent, or roughly twice the rate of brick-and-mortar sales, to $38 billion for the quarter, comScore said, driven by a 7 percent increase in the number of buyers and a 9 percent increase in transactions per buyer, which offset a slight decline in average transaction amount.

The results represent the sixth consecutive quarter of positive year-over-year growth for e-tailers and the second consecutive quarter of double-digit growth rates, the company said.

Estimates from comScore echoed Commerce Department figures showing that e-commerce and other direct sales rose 15.5 percent in April, while Sears Holdings reported an increase in total online sales of 22.4 percent during the quarter.


Gian Fulgoni, comScore chairman, attributed the online sales spikes to “rapidly rising gas prices and stubbornly high unemployment,” which are sending consumers to the Web in search of lower prices. “It’s clear that e-commerce has become a mainstay in consumer behavior, driven by the attraction of both lower prices and convenience,” he said.

But the National Retail Federation (NRF) warned that the same factors could render recent retail sales gains across all channels and product sectors fleeting. “Positive economic indicators such as increases in job openings and wage growth are certainly helping boost consumers’ confidence and support spending,” observed NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz. “[But] plenty of other concerns exist that could very easily shift consumers’ spending habits, including decreasing home prices, high unemployment levels and rising costs at the pump.”
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