NEW YORK -- With some notable exceptions, retailers posted decent sales gains in the all-important month of December, aided by a fairly promotional environment.
Sears Merchandise Group, J.C. Penney Stores, The Talbots Inc. and The Neiman Marcus Group all outperformed the overall group, while Merry-Go-Round Enterprises, Ames Department Stores, The Dress Barn, Ann Taylor Stores Corp. and The Limited were weak.
Sears pumped out a 13.3 percent same-store domestic sales gain, exceeding the company's expectations in categories ranging from apparel to big ticket items.
Penney's, noting its focus on value-oriented merchandise, said stronger sales in all its merchandise divisions -- men's, women's and children's apparel and home goods -- helped same-store sales surge 10 percent.
Talbots had a 13.6 percent jump in comparable-store sales and said merchandise was sold at regular prices until Dec. 26, when it began its semiannual sale.
NMG's same-store sales climbed 8.4 percent, with overall sales up 8.7 percent.
The Gap said its sales were significantly less promotional than a year ago, as same-store results improved 4 percent.
Federated Department Stores produced a 4.8 percent rise in same-store sales, "well ahead" of expectations, but noted that Christmas was more promotional than anticipated.
May Department Stores Co.'s same-store sales rose 4.9 percent, and overall sales were up 8.2 percent.
Dayton Hudson Corp. reported a 3.2 percent same-store sales gain, but observed that December was an "extremely promotional month," with the majority of sales in low-margin categories. DH's Target division was up 6 percent on a same-store basis, the department store group's comparable stores were up 5 percent, while Mervyn's continued to be the laggard, with same-store sales off 4 percent.
Leading the downward slide was MGR, with a 16 percent same-store sales decline. However, the company pointed out that sales picked up in the last two weeks of the month and comparable sales were higher than in the year-ago period.
The Limited's women's chains continued to get hammered, leading to a 1 percent decline in comparable-store sales. Wal-Mart Stores, which usually boasts same-store sales increases of 8 percent or more, was dragged down by its Sam's Club segment and showed only a modest 4 percent rise.The hot items of December ranged from miniskirts to minaudieres and cashmere to denim. Here are some of the highlights.
Bloomingdale's, New York: Cashmere sweaters at all price points; private label micro-miniskirts from France, in tweeds, over 4,000 units at $89.
Saks Fifth Avenue, New York: Bath and body collections; Issey Miyake fragrance collection; Carolyne Roehm white and pastel organza blouse; Annick Goutal perfume collection; Judith Leiber minaudiere; all cashmere, especially sweaters and robes.
Neiman Marcus, Dallas: Private label cashmere sweaters, scarves and robes; velvet separates and evening dresses by A.B.S., Tapemeasure and David Dart; suede and leather backpacks from Americana by Sharif, Donna Karan and private label; lace-up ankle boots and flat and high-heeled oxford shoes; bridge to designer eveningwear and accessories, especially minaudieres and shoes.
J.C. Penney Co., Plano, Tex.: Christie and Jill private brand white cotton blouses $36; Trilobal nylon windsuits, $39 to $54.99; Adonna terry-lined satin robes, $59; fine and fashion jewelry, especially diamond stud earrings, diamond tennis bracelets, watches, novelty watches and gold chains; junior denim apparel, including jeans, related tops and vests.
Carson Pirie Scott, Milwaukee: Strongest area was cosmetics -- mainly fragrance -- with home, dresses, evening and misses' suits, junior and men's wear also doing well.
Kohl's, Menomenee Falls, Wisc.: the Wisconsin Badgers' logo products, especially sweatshirts; denim, turtlenecks and home business.
Montgomery Ward, Chicago: Flannel shirts, especially with quilting, for women, men and children; women's leather bomber jackets; sweaters; woven skirts; suede vests; blue denim by Northwest and colored denim by Rio, and gold holiday shells.
Sears, Roebuck & Co., Hoffman Estates, Ill.: Home and practical items were strongest. In apparel, jeans, vests and vest-look sweaters and blouses, flannel, sweaters, intimate apparel and small gift items such as slippers, scarves and gloves.
Dayton Hudson Corp., Minneapolis: stirrup pants, washable silk sleepwear and anything with a holiday motif; cashmere sweaters were strong at the Department Store Division and sequin dresses did well at its discounter, Mervyn's, and the Department Store Division. Children's colored denim pants, denim shirts and early spring shorts were also strong at Mervyn's.
McRae's, Jackson, Miss.: handknit sweaters from Eagle's Eye and Marissa Christina; Christmas motif sweaters and sweatshirts; nylon and silk jog suits; cotton sweaters, particularly in tunic styles, and two-piece knit dressing, all sold 5,000 to 15,000 units.
Isaacson's, Atlanta: Fur-lined microfiber jacket from Nina Ricci, $650, sold 46 units. Designer sportswear outsold bridge merchandise. Between 40 and 50 pieces each of Armani's Collezioni and Escada's cruise collection sold in December. Best-selling accessories were Robert Lee Morris's matte finish gold and silver jewelry, priced between $100 and $500, with 75 units sold.
Rich's, Atlanta: cashmere sweaters by Pringle and Rich's private label, Lauren Alexander. Cotton turtlenecks and tunic-length sweaters were also strong. Vests in all lengths and fabrications, novelty handknit sweaters and activewear with Christmas motifs performed well, as did colored denim jeans. In accessories, pearls, scarves and organizers were strong, along with classic handbags from Dooney & Burke and Coach. In intimate apparel, pajamas in cotton and soft flannel were bestsellers.
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