Here are the highlights for long-term shareholders.
1. Blending digital and physical retail
Our interconnected strategy continues to drive sales both in stores and online, as online sales grew approximately 19% in the quarter, now representing approximately 6.2% of our total sales with approximately 45% of our online U.S. orders being picked up in our stores. And should a customer need to return an item purchased online for another item, our conveniently located stores are there for them, with 85% of our online order returns being completed in store.
-- CEO Craig Menear
Home Depot's online operations help to drive in-store traffic, including when items are picked up at -- or, if need be, returned to -- its stores. Rather than disparate businesses, the company sees its e-commerce and in-store operations as two parts of a whole, with each reinforcing the other. This "One Home Depot" philosophy underlies its omnichannel strategy, and it's a significant competitive advantage over online-only rivals, as well as less tech-savvy traditional retailers.
2. Hurricanes boost sales
We also saw incremental demand stemming from the national disasters during the quarter.
-- Executive Vice President Ted Decker
While many businesses see their operations damaged by hurricanes and their aftermath, Home Depot tends to experience an uptick in demand for its goods and services as people rebuild after the destruction. As such, an investment in Home Depot could help offset some of the potential risks that climate change may pose to your portfolio.
3. But it's more than just storms that are driving results
Looking beyond of the storm-related demand, we continue to see momentum in our core business. Costs in non-impacted markets remained strong, with healthy growth in both ticket and transactions.
Home Depot is benefiting from both an increasing number of transactions (up 2.7%) and a higher average transaction size (up 5.1%). Big-ticket sales, which the company defines as transactions over $900, jumped 12.1% and now represent approximately 22% of Home Depot's U.S. sales. This segment benefited from strong sales of appliances, floorings, and several categories geared toward professional customers.
4. Top-tier comp growth
Comps for U.S. stores were positive 7.7% for the quarter, with positive comps of 7.3% in August, 8.8% in September, and 7% in October.
-- CFO Carol Tome
With the previously mentioned factors fueling its growth, Home Depot's comparable-store sales increases are some of the best in retail. Moreover, they're coming at a time when many other retailers are struggling with stagnant -- and even declining -- comps, making Home Depot's performance all the more impressive.
5. Expanding margins
Our operating margin for the third quarter was 14.7%, an increase of 36 basis points from last year.
Home Depot is becoming more profitable as it expands its sales base. The company is reining in costs and prioritizing improvements to its existing stores rather than opening new locations. This, in turn, is leading to margin expansion, higher returns on capital, and greater free cash flow production.
6. Capital returns
In the third quarter, we repurchased approximately $2.1 billion or 12.3 million shares of our outstanding stock. ... For fiscal 2017, we're now targeting share repurchases of $8 billion, of which $2.1 billion will occur in the fourth quarter.
Home Depot is passing a hefty portion of its free cash flow on to shareholders through stock buybacks and a steadily rising dividend payout -- both of which are helping to support its stock price and boost investor returns.
7. The future looks bright
The macro environment remains supportive, and we believe housing is a tailwind for our business. In addition, we expect the hurricane recovery efforts to continue across a number of our markets.
Rising home prices, an aging base of existing homes, and low inventory of new homes for sale all tend to encourage people to invest in home repairs and renovations. In addition, many of the housing products and repair services that Home Depot offers are in greater demand following the devastation wrought by recent megastorms Harvey and Irma. Together, these factors point toward continued strong sales for Home Depot in the quarters ahead.