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High Gas Prices Mute April Sales

New York — High gas prices took the wind out of full-line discounters’ same-store sales last month, although wholesale clubs still managed to command solid comp-store gains.

Among the discount chains, Wal-Mart reported essentially flat same-store sales gains in April while net sales rose 6.1 percent to $14.8 billion. Average ticket drove the comp increase for the month while traffic declined, the company said.

Similarly, same store sales at Target edged up a slim 1.3 percent in April, while net sales grew 7.7 percent to $3.4 billion.

Among wholesale clubs, category leader Costco said same-store sales were up 7 percent at its United States stores last month, while total sales grew 11 percent to $3.9 billion.

The company said its results were boosted 2 percent by an Easter calendar shift that provided one extra shopping day in April. Also aiding sales, from a product perspective, were PCs, A/V and white goods, whose performances Costco described as “strong.”

For Wal-Mart’s Sam’s Club, comparable U.S. store sales rose 4.9 percent in April while net revenue rose 7.5 percent to $2.9 billion.

At BJ’s Wholesale Club, April comps grew 8.4 percent while net sales increased 12.5 percent to $568.7 million. The channel’s No. 3 chain said the calendar shift raised sales between 1 percent and 2 percent, and that CE, including TVs, were among the handful of categories showing strong comp-sales gains. Weaker categories included film and prerecorded video.

Big Lots, the closeout chain which placed 78th on the TWICE Top 100 CE retailer rankings (see p. 1), reported a 4.4 percent gain in April comps and a 10.4 percent increase in net sales to $337.7 million.

CEO Michael Potter attributed strong response to its advertising circulars and improved weather for the 7.4 percent increase in average basket size, which helped offset continued softness in customer traffic, as evidenced by a 3 percent decline in the number of customer transactions.