March Sales Mixed At Discount Chains

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New York - Sales of CE and other merchandise at national discount chains were decidedly mixed last month, due in part to a late Easter holiday that is pushing purchases into April.

At Target, net sales for the five weeks, ended April 2, fell 4.5 percent to $6 billion, and comp-store sales declined 5.5 percent, attributable to last year's earlier Easter.

Comp-store sales in Target's hardlines category decreased in the low double-digit range, with the strongest performance in CE and the softest performance in music, movies and books, the company said.

Among wholesale clubs, channel leader Costco said net sales rose 17 percent to $8.3 billion for the five weeks, ended April 3, and comp sales at U.S. stores rose 7 percent excluding the contribution from rising gasoline prices. The gains were attributed to the gas spikes, favorable foreign currency fluctuations, an extra sales day in the reporting period, and the inclusion of sales from Costco's joint venture in Mexico.

CE comp sales were slightly negative for the month on softness in PCs, audio and navigation, although TV unit and dollar volume was "up nicely," the company said, led by strong sales of 3D and LED TVs.

No. 3 warehouse club BJ's said net sales rose 9.1 percent to $1 billion and comp sales increased 1.3 percent excluding the boost from gasoline. Comps were negatively impacted by the late Easter holiday and weakness in TVs and prerecorded video.

Last month BJ's entered into a confidentiality agreement with a private-equity firm that is evaluating a potential acquisition of the chain.

The chain-store results are in line with a MasterCard Advisors' Spending Pulse report showing that sales of CE and major appliances rose 1.2 percent in March, compared with a year-ago increase of 5.7 percent.

Online sales of CE spiked 14 percent and total e-commerce revenue increased 16.1 percent last month, the report showed.


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