What happened

Shares of Big Lots (BIG 5.85%) soared 12% higher on Monday as the discount retailer announced same-store sales growth in the first quarter, as well as month-to-date in April, and noted that comps growth had accelerated over the last two weeks.

So what

The retailer says all of its stores have remained open during the coronavirus pandemic as it sells everyday essential home items. Consumers have responded by boosting sales beyond expectations.

Forklift unloading boxes from trailer

Image source: Getty Images.

Focusing on health and safety for customers and employees at its stores and in its distribution centers, president and CEO Bruce Thorn said in a statement, "That in turn has enabled us to maintain business continuity and support our customers through these challenging times, resulting in positive quarter-to-date comps in-store as well as strong growth online."

The discounter said it was extending the $2-per-hour pay increase it gave employees, along with a 30% employee discount on purchases, through May. It said $1 million had been set aside for the company's COVID-19 employee assistance fund, which it pointed out was funded in part by Big Lots executives donating a part of their salaries.

Now what

The retailer has been plagued by sluggish sales for several years now and its turnaround strategy has yet to achieve any real traction, but the pandemic may cause its business to resonate within the current environment, especially in categories damaged particularly hard by the pandemic, such as furniture, which now accounts for more than a quarter of sales.