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Target (TGT) holiday sales 2020 fall short of estimates

Shoppers pack an aisle during a Black Friday sale at a Target store, Friday, Nov. 23, 2018, in Newport, Ky.

John Minchillo | AP

Target was expected to be a winner this holiday season, amidst a sea of disappointing reports. But the big-box retailer said Wednesday that its holiday sales were weaker than planned.

Shares tumbled nearly 8% on the news. 

Target said its same-store sales during November and December were up just 1.4%, compared with growth of 5.7% a year earlier.

The company said that, despite missing the mark, it is maintaining a prior outlook for fourth-quarter earnings. It also said in a press release that the fourth quarter of 2019 remains on track to mark Target’s eleventh consecutive quarter of same-store sales gains.

Target said it found strength in apparel and beauty, while lackluster performance in key holiday categories like electronics, toys and parts of its home business offset those gains.

CEO Brian Cornell said Target “faced challenges throughout November and December in key seasonal merchandise categories.” But “because of the durability of our business model, we are maintaining our guidance for our fourth quarter earnings per share.” 

Especially this holiday season, Target was expected to be a winner in the toys category. The company has been devoting more square footage in stores to toys, following Toys R Us’ liquidation. It has partnered with to open mini Disney shops within certain Target shops. Target also is now powering the website of the Toys R Us brand that has relaunched post bankruptcy.

But this holiday season, Target said toy sales were about flat with the prior year. The company did say, however, that it continued to gain market share in toys throughout the holidays, based on tracking data provided by The NPD Group.

Target said electronics sales were down more than 6% in November and December, while sales of home items were down about 1%. Apparel sales, meantime, were up about 5%, beauty sales inched up roughly 7%, and food and beverage sales climbed about 3% during the holiday period, according to the company.

Digital sales rose 19% — thanks to more people utilizing Target’s same-day options like curbside pickup when they buy online. The company said use of its same-day services grew more than 50% during November and December compared with 2018, driving about 75% of the retailer’s overall digital sales growth this past holiday season.

Target said it now expects fourth-quarter same-store sales to fall in line with the 1.4% growth it experienced during November and December, compared with a prior outlook of 3% to 4% growth. It said this means full-year same-store sales should rise more than 3%. Same-store sales represent a key metric used by the retail industry to keep track of purchases made at stores open for at least 12 months.

Analysts had been calling for Target’s same-store sales during the fourth quarter, which includes the holiday season, to be up 3.8%, according to a poll by Refinitiv.

“Our fourth quarter performance will benefit from productivity improvements in our stores and supply chain, as well as meaningfully lower clearance inventory compared with a year ago,” Cornell said in the release.

Target’s announcement on Wednesday might come as a shock to some, because the retailer was largely expected to have had a strong holiday season, while mall-based apparel retail chains and department store operators struggled through it.

Macy’s, J.C. Penney and Kohl’s all in recent days have reported same-store sales declines during the holiday season. Kohl’s specifically called out its women’s apparel business as its biggest weak link. And Target, meantime, proved in its latest fiscal quarter that its apparel sales are on fire.

While leggings maker Lululemon reported a strong holiday season, others like Victoria’s Secret owner L Brands and discount chain Five Below added to the malaise.

Thanks to its investments in new private labels like a grocery line called Good & Gather, store remodels and mobile app updates, analysts say Target has been taking market share from struggling rivals. The Minneapolis-based retailer in November raised its annual profit outlook, to expect full-year adjusted earnings per share to fall within a range of $6.25 to $6.45. Those expectations weren’t adjusted on Wednesday.

While holiday sales for key general merchandise categories climbed a meager 0.2% in 2019 compared with 2018, according to weekly point-of-sale data tracked by The NPD Group, there were “clear winners.” The firm called holiday results overall “lackluster,” thanks in part to companies pushing deals earlier and earlier in the year, thereby lessening the significance of historically key days like Black Friday.

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