Are Same-Store Sales Numbers Dead?

Along with announcing April same-store sales results, the world's largest retailer Wal-Mart announced it would stop reporting these monthly figures in the future. The number of retailers that report monthly same-store sales results has dropped considerably in recent years. Some retailers have gone out of business. Others have simply stopped releasing the results and opted to report quarterly figures or simply provide earnings reports. I pointed out in November that as recently as 2005, the same-store sales numbers were computed off more than 70 chains. Now the number of chains reporting is in the 30s.

Wal-Mart isn't the first retailer to stand up to the convention of reporting this monthly metric. Home Depot stopped reporting monthly same-store sales years ago. Eddie Lampert railed against the metric in 2006 and the company stopped reporting the figure as well. Last February, Macy's also stopped reporting the figure (though it resumed reporting it in October).

But Wal-Mart's decision to drop same-store sales results could be the death knell. For one, Wal-Mart for a long time has propped up the overall figure because of its weight in the index and the fact that it's often outperformed the retail sector in general. For example, in November, same-store sales dropped 2.4 percent as a whole. But if you excluded Wal-Mart, the decline would have been 7.7 percent. Will other retailers want to hang on and keep reporting if the same-store sales figure starts to look appreciably worse month after month?

No other large retailers have yet given indications they will follow in Wal-Mart's footsteps, but it may just be a matter of time, Brown said.

Volatility can certainly result when a retailer misses expectations. The biggest case in point on Thursday is Hot Topic (HOTT). The teen retailer did a lot better than most others in the industry by reporting a sales gain of 3.1%. But the advance was well below the 7% analysts expected and the stock is down 22% to $9.65.

There are retailers that may not want to keep bombarding investors with bad news. Limited (LTD) has now posted 20 consecutive months of same-store sales declines, according to Thomson Reuters. J.C. Penney Co. (JCP) and Gap Inc. (GPS) have both logged 17 straight monthly declines. Kohl's Corp. (KSS), Saks Inc. (SKS) and Stage Stores Inc. (SSI) all have 10 drops in a row. Abercrombie & Fitch Inc. (ANF), which has stuck largely to a no-promotion approach, has notched nine double-digit percentage sales declines in a row, Thomson Reuters said.

"It makes perfect sense for Wal-Mart to stop monthly same-store sales reports," said Brian Sozzi, equity retail analyst at Wall Street Strategies. "And I would expect others to start falling under the umbrella."

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