Retailers looking to have their spirits cheered -- and sales figures lifted -- by the holiday season just passed are likely to be still waiting for Santa, according to preliminary results and surveys.
Among the gloomy reports:
Wal-Mart Stores, Bentonville, Ark., said it had revised its same-store sales projections for December to 2% to 3%, down from 3% to 5%. The company added that comparable-store sales at Sam's Club were likely to be negative.
Consumer confidence declined in December after a small rebound in November, according to The Conference Board, New York.
Target Corp., Minneapolis, although encouraged by a sales pickup in the week before Christmas that surpassed its expectations, said its sales for December were "well below plan."
Traditionally, food retailers are not as affected by weak holiday spending as general retailers, but some industry observers said they thought this year might be an exception.
Gary Giblen, senior vice president and director of research, C L King Associates, New York, told SN, "It takes a pretty bad economy for people to be price sensitive about holiday food spending, but this is the most negative industry environment in decades."
And while some food retailers appear to have fared better than retailers in general, others said their holiday sales left them little to celebrate, according to an informal SN survey of supermarket operators.
Ron Pearson, chairman and chief executive officer, Hy-Vee, West Des Moines, Iowa, said, "We found our holiday season to be as good as we have been doing through 2002.
So far we're running a 5.5% increase in total sales starting the week before Thanksgiving, with comp-store sales up 4%.
"We did see a big cutback in special catering orders, but 0verall eating at home increased."
Other retailers were less enthusiastic about their results. Fred Ball, chairman and CEO, Ball's Food Stores, Kansas City, Kan., noted that sales were down for the week ended Dec. 15, up for the week ended Dec. 22 and not yet fully computed as of late last week for the week ended Dec. 29. Although he added, "It looks like we're going to have a pretty decent week this week."
However, Ball observed that the age of his stores had more to do with their success than the holiday seasons or economic environment. "Bottom line: With our old stores it's very difficult to keep up with same store sales," he said. "Our new stores continue to move up in sales."
Brent Deur, manager, Shop & Save, Freemont, Mich., said, "For us, sales were pretty close to what they were last year."
He added that the sales slump that hit discounters appears not have affected supermarkets as much. "Everybody has to eat, I guess," he said.
Bill Zschoche, CEO and president, Nowell's IGA, Columbia, Mo., commented, "I think sales were soft. If the big discounters are saying sales are off, you know the smaller guys like us are off."