March Retail Sales Up, But CE's Impact Mixed

By Steve Smith On Apr 21 2008 - 6:00am

While national mass merchants and warehouse clubs all reported higher March sales, the impact of electronics and the early Easter date were mixed.

At Wal-Mart stores in the five weeks ending April 4, net sales were up 5 percent to $23.1 billion with comp-store sales up 0.9 percent, down from the previous year's gain of 3.4 percent. In the U.S. segment, Wal-Mart said entertainment and solid Easter sales drove its business.

Eduardo Castro-Wright, Wal-Mart Stores U.S. president/CEO, said, "Our initiatives in electronics have improved customer access to leading brands and made Wal-Mart the retailer of choice for entertainment products. The U.S. stores continued to generate triple-digit comparable sales in flat-panel TVs and GPS units, as well as double-digit growth rates in laptop computers, video games and digital cameras."

At Sam's Club sales were $4.28 billion, up 3.2 percent, with comp-store sales down 0.7 percent for the five weeks ending April 4. The same time last year Sam's Club had a comp-store sales gain of 7.4 percent. Among the highlights for Sam's Club were sales of Easter merchandise, home furniture, office supplies and video games.

Tom Schoewe, executive VP/chief financial officer of Wal-Mart, said that due to the early Easter "and its potential positive impact on the April sales period, we expect comparable store sales without fuel for the April four-week period in the United States to be between 1 and 3 percent. This guidance is slightly higher than our comparable sales guidance of the previous two months, which has been flat to two percent." Wal-Mart and Sam's Club comp-sales numbers in this story excluded fuel sales.

Target reported that its net retail sales for the five weeks ended April 5, increased 1.5 percent to $5.67 billion, from $5.59 billion for the same period last year, while March comp-store sales decreased 4.4 percent.

Costco reported net sales of $6.57 billion for the five weeks ended April 6, an increase of 11 percent from $5.93 billion in the same five-week period last year.

Comp-store sales in the United States were up 5 percent and that figure does include, among other things, the effect of gasoline price inflation, with the average sales price per gallon of gasoline up 20 percent for the five-week month of March, as compared to the year-earlier March, the chain said.

Excluding gasoline price inflation, U.S. comp sales would have been up 3 percent.

BJ's Wholesale Club reported sales for March increased by 8.5 percent to $858.1 million, from $790.9 million in March 2007. On a comp store, sales increased by 6 percent for the month including a contribution of 3.4 percent from sales of gasoline. BJ's March 2007 comp sales were up 5.5 percent with 2.1 percent due to a positive impact from higher gasoline sales.

While BJ's cited television as one of its growth categories during the month, electronics, furniture and pre-recorded video had weaker sales.

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