Store sales grew moderately in Nov. Bargain hunters filled aisles; discounters, home specialists gain; Retailing

Consumers hunted bargains in November and bypassed the fashion apparel that was to have given retailers a boost, leading to only moderate gains in sales, retailers reported yesterday.

Business turned out especially disappointing for department stores and apparel and electronics retailers, with mass discounters and home specialty stores faring better.


"The month of November has been a bargain-hunting experience for most shoppers," said Kurt Barnard, president of Barnard's Retail Trend Report, a forecasting firm based in Scotch Plains, N.J.

"The stores that did the best were the discount department VTC stores, off-price and moderate-price department store," Barnard said. "Most apparel stores died on the vine."


Sears, Roebuck and Co., J. C. Penney Co. Inc., Circuit City Stores Inc. and Best Buy Co. all suffered drops in sales at stores open at least a year, compared with November sales a year ago. Sales were down as much as 3.1 percent at Penney to 0.4 percent at Best Buy.

Barnard predicted that stores like Best Buy and Circuit City -- where sales fell 3 percent from last November -- will continue to struggle.

"The competition is too fierce," he said. "There are too many stores around and no new products. Everyone has at least three televisions, and one VCR and one computer."

Apparel sales have failed to take off as much as analysts and retailers had predicted, which hurt some department stores and apparel retailers. At AnnTaylor Stores Corp., sales fell 3.2 percent compared with a same-store sales increase of 10.3 percent for the same four-week period last year.

But there were some notable exceptions.

Sales jumped 7 percent for the month at Gap Inc., which was helped by the expansion of its lower-priced Old Navy division. Dayton Hudson Corp., which operates Target stores, had a 5.2 percent increase in stores open at least a year.

And Kmart Corp. posted a 5.4 percent increase, where toys, housewares and consumer staples were among the best sellers.

The end of the month included the kickoff to the crucial holiday shopping season, which started with Black Friday the day after Thanksgiving. But retail analysts no longer expect to see the biggest sales gains of the season on that day -- or even on the full weekend after Black Friday. More and more Americans have been putting their holiday shopping off to the last few days before Christmas.


Over the Thanksgiving weekend, "We found most malls were fairly busy, stores were fairly busy, but there were fewer shopping bags being carried out of the malls and stores."

Pub Date: 12/05/97