NEW YORK -- After a sales streak Thanksgiving weekend, the retail industry last week lapsed into a more familiar pattern of mediocre gains that met most plans but left little else to cheer about.
Generally, retailers are projecting gains of about 6 percent for the season overall. Last week, the gains were about half that at department stores and mass merchants and even less at specialty stores.
The International Council of Shopping Centers said specialty retail sales rose just 0.9 percent last week, based on a survey of over 5,000 stores in 80 malls. For The weekend after Thanksgiving, specialty store sales rose 4.5 percent.
Among the results:
Cooler weather aided California stores, but warm weather hurt the Midwest and Northeast.
Novelty and moderate goods, including cashmere sweaters and gloves, and typical gifts, such as jewelry and fragrances, sold best.
"Business was softer last week," noted John Cody, J.C. Penney Co.'s executive vice president and director of stores. "Part of that is because seasonal lines like outerwear and heavier apparel have really lagged in the Northeast and Northwest. If you take the outerwear and heavier sweaters out of the equation, it looks a lot more favorable." Penney's sales last week were on plan, with a gain of about 4 percent -- slightly weaker than Thanksgiving week. At Bloomingdale's, "It was an OK week, considering the warm weather," said Michael Gould, chairman and ceo. "We were on plan." He characterized the past eight days as "small" ones compared to the week before Christmas.
Jim Nordstrom, co-chairman of Nordstrom Inc., also said business was "OK" with volume "as strong" as last year, but he added that the season last year was "a disaster." "You can fiddle all month, but it's always those three days before Christmas that tell you how it is," Nordstrom said. "Until the 26th, you don't know."
At Gottschalks, Fresno, Calif., cold weather boosted fleece jogging suits and tops, coats and wool.
Joe Levy, chairman, said cold weather apparel and accessories significantly contributed to an 8 percent gain. Women's wear, men's wear and home were strong; juniors and Liz Claiborne were weak.James Henwood, general manager of South Coast Plaza mall, said last week's traffic was down 3 percent. The drop follows the mall's best Thanksgiving weekend ever, when traffic surged 13 percent.
A Kmart Corp. spokesman said comparable-store sales in the 11 days between Thanksgiving and Sunday increased in the "mid single-digit range." The discounter had a strong Thanksgiving weekend, with comparable-store sales rising about 10 percent. Business "has basically been OK subsequent to that."
At Sears, Roebuck & Co., "Our sales for the first week of December are clearly on plan," said John Costello, senior executive vice president of marketing.
He did not believe the strong sales momentum following Thanksgiving significantly slowed. Bestsellers included plush terry robes, fine jewelry, cosmetics, sweaters and holiday-theme apparel.
Jacobson's said sales were up slightly over the last week, less than 5 percent. "Our business was a little stronger in Florida than it was in the Midwest over the weekend," said James Batterson, vice president. "That may be due in part to the unseasonably warm weather in the past several days here," he added, noting, "People were playing golf."
Ames Department Stores ceo Joseph Ettore said the strong sales pattern after Thanksgiving continued through last weekend, and apparel sales showed a greater increase than hard lines, despite warm weather.
Jamesway Corp.'s sales last week were "decent" and on plan, a spokesman said. Hard lines outperformed other categories.
R.H. Macy & Co. said business was in line with projections on the East and West Coasts, leaving the chain "pretty comfortably positioned for our plan," a spokeswoman said. Typical gift and cold weather items moved well at Macy's East. The chain sold 2,000 cashmere knit glove units, averaging $30; 4,000 fleece-lined gloves, averaging $30, and 2,500 fake fur hats and headbands, $30. Neiman Marcus achieved its plan with sales that ran "way ahead of last year," said Janet Gurwitch, executive vice president.
"The week of Thanksgiving is bigger volume, but we had a pretty aggressive plan and we have a very good trend right now," she noted.
Charles Bunstine, chief operating officer of Barneys New York, said business is up in the high single-digits. "The day after Thanksgiving was very strong. What we have is a very positive week-to-week build," he said.
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