Holiday Sales: A Mixed Bag, But Mostly Up

January 9, 2003

Holiday Sales: A Mixed Bag, But Mostly Up

Jewelry chain holiday sales reports show a fairly wide range of results when comparing 2002 with 2001. Most stores, however, at least entered the plus column and some jewelry chains did very well vis a vis major general retailers. Diamonds were clear winners for several large chains.

Among retailers reporting results:
• Zale Corp., the largest jewelry retailer in the U.S., reports comparable store sales increased 1.3% for the combined months of November and December. Total sales increased 1.3% for the same period. Zale says the moderate segment of its business continues to be its strength.
• Second-largest U.S. jeweler Sterling, the U.S. division of the United Kingdom-based Signet Group, reports a 4.7% increase in comparable store sales, with a 6.6% increase in total sales for the period from Oct. 30-Dec. 24 from the year before. After a disappointing November, sales recovered smartly in December, said Terry Burman, group and U.S. chief executive. On a Jan. 9 conference call, Burman said the company had particular success with diamond solitaires, three-stone diamond jewelry, the chain's branded Leo diamonds and the diamond category in general. He also credited high levels of staff training and improved systems that kept more staff on the sales floor. Sterling also increased its TV and radio advertising for the holiday period.
• Friedman's, the third largest jewelry retailer in the U.S., says its comparable store sales were up 6.9% from the previous year for its first quarter ended Dec. 28. Total sales increased 9.2%.
• Whitehall Jewellers, the fifth largest U.S. jeweler, reports comparable store sales in November and December were down 2.6% (which the chain says is better than 2001, when sales decreased 4.7% from 2000). Total sales decreased 1.5%. Chairman and CEO Hugh Patinkin says diamond jewelry sales were a bright spot for the chain, particularly three-stone diamond jewelry and bridal jewelry. Diamond jewelry sales increased to over 66% of holiday sales, he says.
• Crescent Jewelers says its comparable store sales were flat during the quarter that ended Dec. 28. Total sales increased 2.4%.
• Tiffany & Co. reports its U.S. comparable store sales rose 1%, with a 6% increase in November and a 1% decline in December, indicating a souring consumer attitude. Total U.S. sales were up 3% for the November-December period. However, the company reports combined Internet/catalog sales rose 20%, reflecting other reports showing online retail sales were positive this holiday season. Tiffany says sales in engagement rings and silver jewelry were strong in the U.S.

General retail reports on holiday sales figures for 2002 versus 2001 were also mixed. Wal-Mart says its same store sales were up 2.3%, while Target Corp.'s comparable store sales fell 0.3%. Higher-end department store Nordstrom reports comparable store sales up 3.4%, with accessories doing well, while Sears, Roebuck & Co. says its comp store sales were down 4.6%, but the fine jewelry category had a solid performance.

by Peggy Jo Donahue

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