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Discount Chains Report Mixed November Sales

National discount chains reported less than stellar sales results for the month of November, prompting some to lower their expectations for the final weeks of the year.

Wal-Mart reported a 4.8 percent increase in net sales to $20.2 billion for the four weeks, ended Nov. 30, while same-store sales edged up 1 percent compared with a nearly 1 percent year-ago decline. Eduardo Castro-Wright, president/CEO of Wal-Mart Stores U.S., said he was “happy” with the company’s sales results, which included a “very solid” performance on Black Friday. Customers responded both in-store and online to seasonal promotions, the company said, including “secret in-store specials” that will continue throughout the holiday season. Tomorrow’s CE specials include a 50-inch Vizio plasma TV for $998, a Gateway laptop computer for $398 and Toshiba’s HD-A3 HD-DVD player with 12 free HD-DVDs for $298. More than half of the 15 sale items were CE products.

More important, Castro-Wright said, were the chain’s overall high customer-satisfaction scores on Black Friday, based on more than 20,000 shopper surveys.

Wal-Mart is projecting same-store sales increases of 1 percent to 3 percent in December for its U.S. operations.

At Target, net sales rose 16.7 percent to nearly $6 billion for the four weeks, ended Dec. 1, thanks to an increase in transactions and average transaction size. Same-store sales increased 10.8 percent on a reported basis but only 1.1 percent on a calendar-adjusted basis, which removes the benefit of the extra post-Thanksgiving week. CEO Bob Ulrich said sales results “largely met expectations” for the Black Friday period but lost momentum in the last week of November, causing the month to fall short of plan and prompting Target to lower its comp-sales target for December. GPS devices were cited as one of the chain’s strongest November performers.

Among the warehouse clubs, Costco said net sales rose 13 percent to $5.7 billion for the four weeks ending Dec. 2, while domestic comp-store sales grew 6 percent. The company reported “modest” strength in CE and majaps, pegging comparable sales at about 6 percent, a slight decline from previous months. Costco attributed the decrease to price declines in its core TV category, with retails falling more than 20 percent year-over-year in November. “TV sales are very strong in units,” said investor relations VP Bob Nelson, “but we can’t keep pace with deflation as we have in the past.”

At Sam’s Club, net sales rose 8.7 percent to $3.6 billion for the four weeks, ended Nov. 30, and comps sales increased 4.3 percent, excluding sales of gasoline. The Wal-Mart unit cited electronics and video games among its strongest November sellers.

BJ’s reported an 11.7 percent increase in net sales to $746.3 million for the four weeks ending Dec. 1, and a 4.9 percent hike in comp-store sales, excluding sales of gasoline. The company said comps were driven by a 4 percent increase in average transaction size and a 1 percent increase in traffic year-over-year. TVs and video games were among the strongest categories last month, while recorded media was among the weakest.

Elsewhere, Sharper Image the proprietary CE chain, said net sales slipped 9 percent to $44.7 million for the month, ended Nov. 30 and comp sales fell 14 percent.