March Chain Sales Soar Despite CE Softness

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New York - An early Easter and warm weather helped offset weakness in consumer electronics to deliver strong March sales to discounters.

Among those reporting results, Target said net retail sales for the five weeks, ended April 3, increased 12.5 percent to $6.2 billion and same-store sales rose 10.3 percent, compared with a 6.3 percent decline last year.

"March comparable-store sales exceeded our expectations," said Target chairman, president and CEO Gregg Steinhafel, although CE had the weakest comps in hardlines due to brisk sales of DTV converter boxes in 2009.

Target noted that current-month sales will temper results for the combined March-through April period, which are projected to show a more moderate 3 percent to 5 percent increase.

Among the warehouse clubs, Costco said net sales rose 12 percent last month to $7.1 billion while U.S. comp sales increased 2 percent, excluding the positive impact of gasoline sales.

Like Target, CE and majaps were Costco's weakest-performing hardlines category, posting low single-digit declines. The chain attributed the downturn to weakness in TV, where both unit and dollar volume fell 20 percent last month.

At BJ's Wholesale Club, net sales soared 15.7 percent to $1 billion and comps climbed 7.3 percent, excluding the positive impact of fuel sales. The company included TV and video games among its monthly laggards, but said overall traffic was up 7 percent excluding gas.

Looking at the broader picture, the nation's chain stores together posted "a healthy, albeit inflated, increase" of 9 percent last month, noted Michael Niemira, chief economist and research director for the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC). Niemira estimated that the earlier Easter — April 4, 2010, vs. April 12, 2009 — contributed 4 to 5 percentage points of growth, but considered last month's performance "very strong" even without the benefit of the calendar shift due in part to unseasonably warm weather.


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