Holidays Were Happy At Retail

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While it's no secret that holiday sales were strong for consumer electronics, just how strong became clearer this week with the release of seasonal sales numbers by major reporting retailers, with particularly hefty growth shown by specialty dealers.

Best Buy reported record December sales of $2.27 billion, up 23 percent, and said same-store sales rose 9.8 percent.

CFO Allen Lenzmeier said: "Sales of digital products, including TVs, cameras, camcorders, satellite systems, wireless phones, and DVD hardware and software, exceeded 10 percent of our sales mix, more than double last year. In addition, sales gains in music and movies, and large-screen TVs contributed to our record sales performance for the period."

Circuit City said its retail consumer electronics/appliance sales rose 12 percent in December to $1.63 billion, and same-store volume was up 6 percent.

"In December, we continued to see strong sales of newer technologies and highly featured products," with such products as DVD, DirecTv, digital camcorders and big-screen TVs particularly strong, said chairman Richard Sharp.

Ultimate Electronics, which normally reports sales on a quarterly basis, said volume in the November-December period rose 18 percent to $96.7 million, with comparable stores posting a 15 percent rise.

President Dave Workman said, "We realized significant increases in all of our major categories. Digital products in all categories continued their trend of strong sales gains, led by HDTV, digital camcorders, digital still cameras and DVD."

Workman noted that "DVD led all products, with an increase of 134 percent over last year." Also, he said, during the period Ultimate opened stores Davenport, Iowa, and Sioux Falls, S.D., raising its outlet count to 31.

Tandy reported December sales at its RadioShack division rose 9 percent to $638 million, with comparable stores posting a 9 percent increase. In the fourth quarter total sales were up 14 percent to $1.36 billion, to put volume for the year at $4.04 billion, up 15 percent. Same-store sales were up 10 percent for the quarter and 12 percent on the year.

CEO Len Roberts said that during the month "we sold half-a-million wireless phones, sold out of many toy and gift items, and increased satellite dish unit sales by more than 50 percent." He said the chain also "experienced strong sales in its new RCA-brand product line, specifically in DVD.

Among other reporting retailers:

CompUSA said sales for the quarter to December 25 decreased 21 percent to $1.38 billion, and sales at comparable retail stores declined 1.8 percent. Commenting on the retail sales performance, CEO James Halpin said the chain was "less promotional" during the holiday season, "especially on retail desktop computers." At the same time, he noted, "we experienced a significant increase in unit sales of notebook computers, cameras and video games"

Kmart chairman Floyd Hall said December sales "were on plan with a strong finish to the month," with home electronics among product groups showing strength.

Sears said sales from ongoing domestic stores rose 1.2 percent for the month $4.52 billion, and that while same-store volume dipped 0.6 percent, earnings were up because of a lower level of promotion.

Chairman Arthur Martinez cited consumer electronics and appliances as among areas in which "sales were particularly strong." He also predicted earnings for the fourth quarter will be up as much as 20 percent and exceed analyst expectations.

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