By  on August 28, 2014

Gains in online sales helped Belk Inc. eke out small improvements in revenues, profits and margins in the second quarter.

In the three months ended Aug. 2, the Charlotte, N.C.-based department store operator’s net income was up 0.3 percent to $30.6 million from $30.5 million in the year-ago period. Eliminating onetime items, including property and equipment sales and asset impairment and exit costs, net income declined 2.9 percent to $30 million from $30.9 million in the year-ago period.

Revenues rose 0.8 percent to $906.5 million from $899.5 million while comparable sales rose 0.6 percent. Belk said online sales, up 43.1 percent in the period, added 1.8 points to the comp number, implying a decline of 1.2 percent in brick-and-mortar store comps. The firm didn’t specify the contribution of online sales.

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“While the beginning of the quarter was soft, sales trends improved during the quarter, with July being the strongest month,” said Tim Belk, chairman and chief executive officer of the company. “Merchandising margins were higher than last year with lower inventories, which positions the company well for the fall season. Digital continues to be our fastest-growing business.”

Gross margin, a metric under constant pressure for department stores and other retailers during the quarter because of the promotional tenor of recent business, rose to 33.3 percent of sales from 33.1 percent a year ago.

Belk said its strongest categories in the quarter were children’s shoes, women’s contemporary and better sportswear and junior and children’s apparel.

Year-to-date net income fell 15 percent to $49.9 million from $58.7 million in the first half of 2013. Revenues rose 0.3 percent to $1.86 billion.

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