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Retail Sales Slip In October

Retail sales remained soft in October, reflecting the weakened economy and consumer uncertainty in the wake of September’s terror attacks.

Among CE chains reporting, RadioShack said total sales slipped 2 percent last month to $363.9 million, while comparable store sales at company-owned locations were flat. Despite the impact on retailers of the “tougher economic environment,” chairman/CEO Len Roberts saw signs of hope in the growth of the chain’s core wireless and parts/batteries/accessories businesses. “We credit this sales trend to a continued focus on our anchor growth strategy,” he said “which we believe positively positions us for long-term shareholder value.”

Sales were also soft at regional CE specialist Ultimate Electronics. Revenue for the quarter ended Oct. 31 was up 13 percent to $132.9 million, but minus the contribution of new locations in Phoenix, Oklahoma City and Colorado Springs, Colo., comp sales fell 6 percent for the period.

CEO Ed McEntire said that much of the downturn came after Sept. 11, with quarterly comps falling from negative 3 percent prior to the attacks to negative 11 percent for the four weeks after. “In light of the tragic attack on our country and resulting moderation in consumer spending, we are satisfied with the sales performance in the third quarter,” he said.

The impact of Sept. 11 was especially profound for New York metro area chain Harvey Electronics. The high-end A/V specialist said September sales tumbled 21.9 percent to $2.4 million while same-store sales plunged 30.5 percent.

Among the mass merchants, Sears said net sales for the four weeks ended Nov. 3 declined 3.4 percent to $2.15 billion and same store sales decreased 4.4 percent. Chairman/CEO Alan Lacy said despite “strong comparable store sales increases in appliances…we continue to see the impact of the weakened economy and sluggish consumer confidence in our sales results.”

Bucking the trend was Wal-Mart, whose aggressive build-out pushed its discount store sales up 14.4 percent to $10.4 billion for the four weeks ended Nov. 2, although comps were still up a respectable 6.3 percent. Target Stores also enjoyed a sales spurt, with net for the four weeks ended Nov. 3 up 12.8 percent to $2.3 billion and comps up 4.1 percent.

But No. 2 discount chain Kmart saw sales dip 4.9 percent to $2.4 billion for the four weeks ended Oct. 31, and said the liquidation of over $52 million in discontinued inventory was responsible for about half of its 4.4 percent same-store declines.

Wal-Mart’s Sam’s Club saw sales rise 13.1 percent to $2.3 billion for the four weeks ended Nov. 2 as comps rose a solid 8.3 percent. Sales also grew at BJ’s Wholesale Club, with October net gaining 6.5 percent to $396 million while comps edged up 1.9 percent. Sales were strong in DVD players, large-screen TVs and home theater systems.

Finally, novelty chain Sharper Image said sales for its stores, catalog and e-commerce site fell 19 percent to $28.4 million last month while comp-store sales sagged 30 percent.