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Some Struggling Retailers Had a Happy Holiday Season

By Daniel B. Kline - Jan 9, 2018 at 9:17AM

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A few chains have reported on their November and December sales, and the news is good.

Heading into the holiday season, retailers had a cautious optimism driven in part by a National Retail Federation (NRF) prediction that sales would grow between 3.6% and 4%. What the NRF could not predict about the crucial months of November and December was where people would shop.

Would they move more of their business to online-only retailers or would brick-and-mortar stores make a comeback? The reality has proven to be that while the season was good to digital leaders including Amazon and Wal-Mart, some struggling traditional retailers also did well.

Those companies, some of which have appeared on lists of companies that may go bankrupt in 2018, have been quick to tout their seasonal success. Of course, posting a gain in same-store sales or even making a profit during a two-month period does not mean a retailer has turned things around completely, but it is a hopeful sign.

A person carries packages wrapped in ribbon.

The holiday shopping season was good for a number of struggling retailers. Image source: Getty Images.

Which retailers have done well?

A number of chains have not made any comment on how their holiday sales went. That does not mean the numbers were poor. In many cases, chains simply don't offer info before a quarterly report because, for good or bad, the results will fall within expectations. Some retailers that have reported, however, are ones that struggled in 2017 (to varying degrees) and their good news may calm fears over their long-term prospects.

J.C. Penney (JCPN.Q): Perhaps the most-talked-about name on this list, the retailer entered the season having shown positive signs in its Q3 earnings report, at least in terms of comparable-store sales. That continued in the nine-week period ending Dec. 30, 2017, with same-store sales climbing by 3.4%.

The growth is nice, but the fact that it was led by home, beauty, and fine jewelry as well as apparel sales, according to a statement from CEO Marvin Ellison, bodes well for the chain's future. In addition, the chain reported double-digit e-commerce sales growth and noted that 100% of its brick-and-mortar stores were used to fulfill digital orders.

Kohl's (KSS 4.32%): While it has not struggled as much as J.C. Penney, Kohl's has not clearly shown that its operating plan will work in the current retail environment. Its November and December numbers, which showed a 6.9% increase in comparable-store sales, may go a long way to prove that it will.

"All lines of business and all regions reported positive comp sales," said CEO Kevin Mansell in a press release. "As expected, growth in digital demand accelerated significantly in the holiday period from the year-to-date trend. In addition, we experienced positive sales in our stores driven by stronger traffic."

Macy's (M 18.56%): Like many other retailers, Macy's has been closing physical locations. In fact, despite its relatively strong holiday, where it posted a 1% gain in comparable-store sales, the chain recently released a plan to close seven more locations while cutting its staff by 5,000 people.

"We saw improved sales trends in our stores and continued to see double-digit growth on our digital platforms. Customers also responded well to our new loyalty program," said CEO Jeff Gennette in a press release announcing November and December sales results.

What does it mean?

Two good months during a period in which Americans spend a lot of money does not mean that any of these companies has turned a corner. Not doing well over the holiday season, however, would have clearly been very bleak news. These results are at least hopeful and show that among many struggling retailers, these brands have a chance to get back on track.

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