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April Retail Sales Mixed; Conn’s Up 2.6%

Beaumont, Tex.  — Conn’s said net sales rose 2.6 percent to $200.1 million for the three months ended April 30, buoyed by the opening of seven new stores since February.
However, the company was impacted by Circuit City’s liquidation during the period, which contributed to a 4.6 percent decline in same store sales, the retailer said.
Despite the drop, the multi-regional electronics, appliance and furniture chain believes it grew its CE and majap share during the quarter, as evidenced by a 34.5 percent increase in unit sales of TVs, and a 3.5 percent gain in total appliance sales amid ongoing weakness in the white goods market.
Conn’s said it had specifically focused on improving it performance in appliances, and also benefitted from replacement sales in markets impacted last year by Hurricane Ike.
In electronics, flat panel TV continued to drive growth in Conn’s CE business, although increases in LCD and plasma panel sales were partially offset by declines in average selling prices and rear projection TV unit sales.
The company also reported lower sales of computers, digital cameras, camcorders and portable audio products, which was partially offset by higher sales of DVD players and accessories.
Commissions on service contracts also declined, due in part to a reduced percentage of sales being financed on the company’s in-house credit programs.
Conn’s will announce its earnings results for its first fiscal quarter on June 4.
Among mass merchants, Wal-Mart said sales at its flagship discount stores rose 7.7 percent in April to $19.3 billion while same store sales grew 5.9 percent. The company attributed the gains to increased traffic and greater spending in discretionary categories like entertainment.
“We gained new customers, improved our market share position and found that when customers had more money to spend, they spent it more often at Walmart,” said Eduardo Castro-Wright, vice chairman, Wal-Mart Stores.
Business was less robust at Costco, where April sales fell 6 percent to $5.2 billion worldwide and same store sales slipped 2 percent in the U.S., excluding the negative impact of gas deflation. The warehouse club attributed the declines in part to the Easter holiday calendar shift, which gave it one less selling day compared to the year-ago period.
Costco said it continued to enjoy strong unit sales of A/V products, PCs and major appliances, although the categories “continued to comp slightly negative due to significant price deflation.” In particular, the average selling price of TVs at Costco was down about 38 percent year-over-year, the company said.
Net sales also fell at Sam’s Club, Wal-Mart’s warehouse division, which reported a 4.3 percent decline in April net sales to $3.5 billion, and flat same store sales excluding the negative impact of gas deflation. Like Costco, Sam’s Club pointed to one less selling day this year over last due to the Easter holiday shift, and cited office electronics, fresh food, and consumables among its strongest monthly sellers.
Similarly, BJ’s Wholesale Club said April sales slipped 3.2 percent to $719 million, although same store sales increased 5.5 percent excluding the impact of gas deflation. Categories with the strongest sales increases included room air, computers and TVs, although BJ’s cited other electronics in general among its weakest April sellers.
The company raised its earnings outlook for the first fiscal quarter based on “higher than expected merchandise sales and margins,” and will report its full results on May 20.