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Discount Chains Showed Mixed Feb. Sales Gains

Discount stores posted varying sales results for February, with Wal-Mart, Sam’s Club and BJ’s handily outpacing Target and Costco.

But most of the chains reported basic goods like food and healthcare, rather than big-ticket discretionary items, still dominated the sales mix.

The exception was Wal-Mart, where net sales rose 8.1 percent in February to $20 billion and comp-store sales increased 5 percent. Vice chairman Eduardo Castro-Wright attributed the gains to falling gas prices, which “significantly boosted household disposable income in February and therefore allowed for both more trips and more spending toward discretionary categories” including entertainment.

That was not the case at Target, where net sales were flat in February at $4.4 billion and comp-store sales sank 4.1 percent. Chairman/president/CEO Gregg Steinhafel said the results continue to reflect “the significant economic challenges” facing Target’s customers, as shoppers spent less and bought less frequently. Non-discretionary goods like food and healthcare were the company’s best sellers, although CE showed the strongest comp-store gains within the hardlines category.

Separately, Target announced the opening of 27 news stores, including its first two locations in Hawaii.

Within the wholesale club channel, Costco said net sales also fell 1 percent in February to $5 billion, while comp sales increased 4 percent, excluding the negative impact of gasoline price deflation.

At Wal-Mart’s Sam’s Club unit, net sales rose 3.1 percent to $3.5 billion and comp-store sales increased nearly 6 percent, excluding gasoline. The company said February results reflected the “stay-at-home trends prevalent in today’s economy,” with food and housewares among the strongest sellers, while big-ticket categories remained soft.

At BJ’s, net sales rose 2.4 percent to $670 million and comp sales increased 8.2 percent in February, excluding gas. Traffic was up about 7 percent, and the average transaction amount increased by about 1 percent, the company said. Like Wal-Mart, BJ’s also enjoyed strength in non-discretionary categories, citing PCs, TVs and video games among its strongest monthly performers. Nonetheless, food outpaced all general merchandise, with a comp increase of 10 percent year over year, the company said.