By  on May 6, 2005

NEW YORK — Teens as well as shoppers looking to satisfy their taste for luxury goods bolstered April comps, while the month was a washout for discounters, thanks to rising gas prices.

Neiman Marcus Group — which earlier this week made a deal to be acquired by two equity firms for $5.1 billion — continued its double-digit rate of growth, with a 14.2 percent increase in April same-store sales. In the teen sector, the standouts included Abercrombie & Fitch, American Eagle, Wet Seal and Bebe. Department stores also saw strong same-store sales growth last month, with Kohl’s Corp. and J.C. Penney Co. registering advances of 8 percent and 3.6 percent, respectively.

But the discount sector suffered last month, with Target Corp. and Wal-Mart’s discount stores experiencing weak gains of 1.3 percent and 0.1 percent, respectively.

Overall, results were better than expected, especially in light of growing worries over the strength of the economy in the months ahead and rising fuel prices. Concerns that colder-than-average spring temperatures would keep customers home also generally proved unfounded in the month. However, shoppers ended up purchasing less spring seasonal merchandise, which caught many retailers off guard. Kohl’s and Pacific Sunwear of California, for example, said sales of shorts and T-shirts underperformed categories such as careerwear and sweatshirts.

“In total, I think the month was quite positive, and we’re really beginning to see a trend for ’05 that’s pleasing,” said Janet Hoffman, a partner in Accenture Ltd.’s retail practice.

The International Council of Shopping Centers said in a report that April same-store sales, or sales at chain stores open at least a year, rose a better-than-expected 2.2 percent for the 70 stores it follows. The shift of this year’s later Easter holiday into the March reporting period negatively impacted aggregate results by 100 to 200 basis points, the ICSC said.

“The results in April were uneven, but there were clear pockets of strength,” said Michael Niemira, the ICSC’s chief economist and director of research, in a statement. “The fact that the luxury, teen and wholesale club sales were relatively strong in April suggested that some segments of the consumer market are thriving despite the heightened consumer uncertainty.”

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