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The recent downturn in discretionary consumer spending sent September and quarterly comp sales skidding for national CE and general merchandise chains.
The weak comparisons are especially disconcerting given retailers' dismal year-ago performance following the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
Among CE specialists, same store sales at Tweeter Home Entertainment Group softened during its fiscal fourth quarter and full year, despite sharp gains in total revenue from recent acquisitions.
According to the 167-store specialty chain, total sales grew 22 percent to $183 million for the quarter ended Sept. 30, while total full year revenue rose 47.4 percent to $796 million.
By contrast, fourth quarter comps, excluding the Hillcrest chain, edged down 1.4 percent, and same-store sales slipped 3.3 percent for the year, excluding acquired chains for the first 12 months of operation.
Hillcrest, which was acquired on March 1, saw its comp sales skyrocket 35.3 percent for the quarter.
According to Tweeter chief financial officer Joe McGuire, chainwide sales are recovering from their summer slump, with September comps nearly flat following a 3 percent decline in July and a 2 percent dip in August.
Among full-line merchants, Sears suffered a 5.9 percent slide in comp sales for the five weeks ended Oct. 5 and a 3.1 percent drop in total revenue to $2.4 billion for the five weeks ended Oct. 5. Chairman/CEO Alan Lacy again attributed the chain's ongoing woes to a disruptive store remodeling program and the "challenging economic environment." He said single digit sales gains in appliances, which rebounded from an August trough, were offset by decreases across other categories.
Even mighty Wal-Mart's sales came in on the softer side of lowered expectations. Comps for the five weeks ended Oct. 5 at its discount store division grew 3.6 percent vs. 6.7 percent last year, and total revenue rose 11.3 percent to $14 billion. The five-week period was also tough for Target's discount stores, where comps slipped 0.4 percent and total sales rose 9.6 percent to $2.9 billion.
Among the wholesale clubs, BJ's saw comps slide 0.5 percent and total sales grow 11.2 percent to $509 million for the five weeks ended Oct. 5. The company also announced that it is closing its two Columbus, Ohio, stores and lowered its fourth quarter sales estimates from 3 percent to between zero and 1 percent.
For the same period, Wal-Mart's Sam's Club division reported comp gains of 1.6 percent and total revenue growth of 6.7 percent to $2.9 billion, amid word that the chain would return to its original focus on small businesses rather than consumers.
Swimming against the tide was Costco, which reported a 5 percent spike in same store revenue at its U.S. stores and a 10 percent hike in total sales to $3.6 billion for five weeks ended Oct. 6.