Dismal December, Holiday Sales Trickle In

Multichannel merchants were right to brace for the worst this past holiday, judging by the numbers reported today. From apparel to books to luxury markets, retailers in most segments had a blue Christmas.

Williams-Sonoma reported a nearly 25% decrease in holiday sales, which the kitchenware/home products merchant said was in line with expectations. Its direct-to-consumer net revenue fell 23.1% to $257.7 million, while its total net revenue dropped 22.6% to $729.4 million.

J.C. Penney Co. no longer reports its direct results, but the general merchant saw its total company December sales slip 6.8%, to $2.96 billion, down from $3.17 billion last year.

Another department store merchant, Macy’s, reported total sales of $4.397 billion for the five weeks ended Jan. 3, a decrease of 4.7% compared with total sales of $4.614 billion in the same period last year. On a same-store basis, Macy’s sales were down 4% in December. Same-store sales for the combined November-December period were down 7.5%.

Meanwhile, Dallas-based luxury merchant Neiman Marcus Group reported a 9.2% slide in December sales for Neiman Marcus Direct, which consists of the print catalog and online operations for Neiman Marcus and Horchow as well as the Bergdorf Goodman Website. Total December revenue for the cataloger/retailer fared worse, sinking 26.4%, to $532 million, compared to $723 million last year.

Saks, another high-ticket goods merchant, said its December sales of $363.3 million for the five weeks ended Jan. 3 decreased 18.9% from $447.7 million over the same period last year, and that comparable store sales decreased 19.8% for the month.

December sales at Victoria’s Secret Direct rose 11%, but were below company expectations, according to Amie Preston, vice president of investor relations for Columbus, OH-based parent company Limited Brands. Total Limited Brands sales in December fell 10%, to $1.64 billion, down from $1.744 billion.

Apparel marketers were indeed hit hard. December sales at Abercrombie & Fitch declined 18%, to $539.2 million, compared with $657 million last year. Same-store sales for the month fell 24%. Total direct-to-consumer sales slipped 11%, to $45.6 million.

Women’s apparel cataloger/retailer Chico’s reported that its December net sales decreased 10%, to $163.4 million, from $181.6 million reported in the same period last year. Comparable store sales fell 12.4% for the five-week period compared to the same period last year.

Gap reported net sales of $1.93 billion for the five-week period ended Jan. 3, which represents a 12% decrease compared with net sales of $2.20 billion for the five-week period last year. The company’s comparable store sales for December were down 14%, compared with a 6% decrease in Dec. 2007.

Gap’s Banana Republic division experienced the biggest decline, with sales down 15% vs. a 1% slide last year. And sales at the company’s Old Navy brand, which had slipped 8% last year, were down 16% for the period this year.

The major booksellers also posted lackluster results. Barnes & Noble store sales were $1.1 billion from Nov. 2 to Jan. 3, a 5.2% decrease over the same period in fiscal 2007. Comparable store sales decreased 7.7%, in line with previously issued fourth quarter guidance for a 6% to 9% decrease. For the 48 weeks ended Jan. 3, 2009, Barnes & Noble store sales decreased 2.6% to $4.2 billion, while comparable store sales decreased 5.4%.

Borders Group’s total consolidated sales for the nine-week holiday period were $868.8 million, an 11.7% decline compared to the same period last year. Borders stores saw a 13.6% decrease in sales, while the company’s Waldenbooks unit saw a drop of 16.4%. Sales at Borders.com, which launched in 2008, were $20.3 million.

Did anybody do well for holiday 2008? Urban Outfitters continues to weather the recession nicely. The apparel and home decor merchant said total company sales for the two-month period ended Dec. 31 rose 9%, to $389 million while same-store sales increased 3%. Direct-to-consumer sales, which includes the company’s Anthropologie, Free People, and Urban Outfitters catalogs, for the same period jumped 25%, with all three brands reporting double-digit growth.

And some companies in the gaming sector saw a lift. Video games merchant GameStop said it reported record sales results for the nine-week holiday period ended Jan. 3. Total sales were $2.9 billion, a 22.3% increase from the prior year of $2.3 billion, and comparable store sales for the period increased 10.2%.

GameStop CEO Daniel DeMatteo said in a statement that the average transaction was higher, too, as more consumers turned to gaming in the recessionary economy.

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