2003 Holiday Sales: Good News at Last

January 8, 2004

2003 Holiday Sales: Good News at Last

After several years of generally weak results, jewelry chains and luxury retailers have cause for optimism – they enjoyed the healthiest comparable store sales increases in retail for the holiday 2003 season. Luxury watches also bounced back. Mid-priced department stores and general discount stores didn't fare as well, though some posted better sales than expected. Here's a recap:

• Zale Corp., Dallas TX, the largest jewelry retailer in the U.S., said its comparable-store sales increased 4.1% for the combined months of November and December 2003 over the same period last year. This is a vast improvement over the 2002 holiday season, when comp-store sales only increased 1.3%.

• The second largest U.S. jeweler, Sterling, the U.S. division of United Kingdom-based Signet Group, saw same-store sales rise by 6.4% in the eight weeks ending Dec. 24 over the same period last year. This is also higher than Sterling's stand-out 2002 holiday results, when same-store sales were up 4.7%. Sterling's mall stores – Kay Jewelers – and Jared The Galleria of Jewelry stores fared well, the company said in a statement.

• Tiffany & Co. reported U.S. same-store sales for the period Nov. 1-Dec. 31 were up 16% over the same period last year, with a 22% increase at its New York City flagship store. Sales were up in most of the store's other regions, except Japan, and the company cited strong diamond jewelry sales across the board as a reason. Tiffany also reported its combined Internet/catalog sales were up 27% for the holiday period.

• Whitehall Jewellers reported same-store sales increases of 6.4% for the November-December 2003 period over last year. This is in sharp contrast to a same-store sales decline of 2.6% during the 2002 holiday period.

• Friedman's says its comparable-store sales increased 2.7% in the quarter ended Dec. 27 over the same period last year.

• Luxury department stores also reported healthy sales increases for the five-week period ending Jan. 3 compared to the year before, with Neiman Marcus and Saks Inc. citing jewelry among their strongest categories. Neiman Marcus Group's specialty stores division, which includes the Neiman Marcus stores and Bergdorf Goodman, said its same-store sales increased 12.6%; Saks Inc.'s Saks Fifth Ave. division enjoyed same-store sales increases of 9.6%; and Nordstrom said its same-store sales rose 9.1%.

• Luxury watch sales also bounced back, reported The New York Times. "Jewelry, especially fancy, high-priced watches, rose 35% over last Christmas," said C. Britt Beemer, chairman of America's Research Group, which polls shoppers and retailers. "For corporate executives, CEOs and Wall Streeters, the watch is now as much a status symbol as the car they drive. It was the big gift they gave themselves this Christmas." Watches with diamonds and technically advanced sports watches scored the most, according to leading watch dealers.

Results were not as good among mid-level department stores and general discount retailers, though Wal-Mart Stores beat analysts' expectations, with same-store sales up 4.3% over last year during the five-week period ending Jan. 2. Federated Department Stores, owner of Macy's and Bloomingdales, saw same-store sales gains of 1.2% in the five weeks ending Jan. 3. May Department Stores Co. said its same-store sales rose 1.6% for the same period. Its stores include Lord & Taylor, Filene's and Hecht's.

by Peggy Jo Donahue

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