December sales reports this week will reflect wider than usual discrepancies among stores, with sales gains ranging between 2% to 12%, analysts said. Quirky trends, fickle tastes and wavering consumer confidence were cited as the reasons why.
The most surprising development of 1993 holiday sales was the pace for home fash ions and fur nishings, big-ticket furniture, electronics and even au tomobile equipment.
The biggest disappointment was women's and children's apparel sales, which were dismal for many department stores.
"It was an OK Christmas with varied results, and retailers with a strong concentration of home-related products did much better than those with a heavy emphasis on apparel," said N. Rick Nelson, a retail analyst with Duff & Phelps, Chicago.
Toy retailers including Toys "R" Us and Kay-Bee Toys had excellent sales. FAO Schwarz reported "very strong" holiday sales with no big surprises, a spokeswoman said.
Best-selling items included licensed characters from Fox TV's "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers," construction toys, plush toys and teddy bears.
Toy marketers now face the burning question of whether the Power Rangers will be a long-term sensation like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Taking a chance, marketers including Tiger Electronics and Happiness Express plan to introduce Power Rangers merchandise this spring including a hand-held videogame, apparel, night lamps, banks and sneaker-toppers.
No. 1 retailer Wal-Mart Stores and No. 3 Sears, Roebuck & Co. are among those expected to report bullish December sales this week, with gains between 9% and 12% anticipated.
Sears attributes the improvement to last year's merchandise assortment overhaul, plus campaigns integrating a new image effort from Young & Rubicam, New York, with holiday-theme ads from Ogilvy & Mather, Chicago.
"A lot of people had seen the new advertising for our women's apparel, but Christmas gave them a reason to come and see it. The timing seemed exceptionally good for us," said a spokeswoman for the Sears Merchandise Group.
Sears said merchandise in all categories including apparel sold well, but demand was intense for home fashions, furniture, big-screen TVs, hardware, and car supplies and tires.
No. 4 J.C. Penney Co.'s numbers are also expected to be "above expectations" due to healthy sales of home furnishings, furniture and moderate-price apparel, said Duncan Muir, manager of financial public relations.
No. 2 retailer Kmart Corp. wasn't so lucky. Director of Investor Relations Orren Knauer said December sales are expected to rise only 3%, a point or two below expectations.
Watches, fragrances, jewelry and cosmetics sold well at department stores, along with ties, 3-D puzzles and Looney Tunes-theme apparel.
Dallas-based Fossil Inc. reported "high demand" for its $65 wristwatches, and exceptional sales of its multifaceted crystal watch.
Des Moines-based Younkers said department store sales are expected to increase 2% to 3% and were "fairly good under the circumstances," as the 53-store chain still feels the effects of devastating summer floods.
"We got off track in July, and we never really got back on-it will be a while before we begin to see strong sales at those stores," said Robert Ferguson, senior VP-marketing for Younkers.M
Toy retailers enjoyed brisk sales of licensed characters from Fox's "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers."