It seems that while gift card sales are a phenomenon that's here to stay at retailers, extending the Christmas buying season perhaps well into January, the best retailers are getting the benefit of strong in-store sales along with the possible "January effect" of the I-didn't-know-what-else-to-buy-you gift card.

Preppy teen clothier American Eagle Outfitters (NASDAQ:AEOS) was one of the few retailers that apparently did right on both counts this holiday season, reporting yesterday that not only did overall sales jump 20% for December, but comps at stores open for at least a year were up 13%, with strong gift card sales and less in-store discounting. As a result, the retailer raised earnings guidance by a penny, forecasting that profits would grow to $0.65 per share.

Contrast that performance with some other clothing retailers and it's quick to see that the American Eagle brand still resonates.


Dec. Comps %



Abercrombie & Fitch (NYSE:ANF)


Ann Taylor (NYSE:ANN)


Chico's FAS (NYSE:CHS)


Aeropostale (NYSE:ARO)


One of the few retailers that managed to outperform American Eagle's sales showing was infant and toddler retailer Gymboree (NASDAQ:GYMB), which posted December comps growth of 15% (which may signify the start of a new baby boomlet).

According to analysts who were watching weekly sales at retailers, American Eagle maintained strong sales throughout the month, which is why CEO Jim O'Donnell -- who just got signed to a nice new $1.35 million pay package (plus options) because of his performance -- was able to be confident that the spring line of the retailer will be just as well-received. It was one of the factors that helped the company handily beat analysts' 8.7% projection for December comps.

The new spring fashions were introduced to the stores on Christmas Eve, and apparently customers didn't miss a beat in snapping up the threads. Year-to-date, American Eagle's sales rang the registers at $2.6 billion, an 18% increase over the $2.2 billion it did in the same period last year.

With spring just around the corner (although in my neck of the woods, it's never felt like winter was really here at all), American Eagle looks like it will continue soaring higher.

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Fool contributor Rich Duprey does not own any of the stocks mentioned in this article. You can see his holdings here. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.