Sam’s Club comps looking good for Q1

Given the performance of Costco and BJ’s during April, it’s a safe bet that same-store sales at Sam’s Club continued to accelerate during the first quarter and will meet or exceed guidance provided at the end of the fourth quarter that called for an increase in the 1% to 3% range.

Sam’s generated a 2.7% comps increase in the fourth quarter, excluding gas, and during the first quarter it is lapping a 0.7% increase from the prior year. That means Sam’s is facing an easy comparison and is also likely benefitting from the same factors which resulted in Costco and BJ’s producing comps growth in April that exceeded analysts’ estimates. More customers shopped at Costco and BJ’s more often in April as they looked to save money on food and gas, according to results the company’s reported Thursday.

Costco said same-store sales at its U.S. clubs increased 6%, excluding the impact of higher year-over-year gas prices and a weaker dollar. U.S. comps rose 11% with those beneficial factors included in the calculation. Total company sales for the period increased 17% to $6.8 billion from $5.83 billion.

The huge impact from high gas prices resulted from an average selling price per gallon of $3.82 this year compared to $2.79 last year. Consequently, Costco experience a 50% comps increase in gasoline sales due largely to the higher price combined with members filling up more often at Costco to save money as prices escalated.

Food price inflation also benefited the company’s April numbers as fresh food departments saw same-store sales grow in the mid-to-high single-digit range, while the opposite was true in electronics where lower average selling prices offset high unit volumes causing a low double digit comp decline.

BJ’s said its April same-store sales increased 4.1%, excluding gas and that total sales increase 12.2% to $872 million compared with $777 million. Including gas, the company said it April comp increased 8.5%. The Easter shift also favorably impacted April results to the tune of about 2.7%.

As was the case with Costco, BJ’s said it too experienced an increase in customer traffic and noted that much of its sale growth was driven by fresh food. The company indicated departments with the strongest growth included bakery, candy, cheese, coffee, dairy, deli, electronics, frozen, meat, milk, plates/utensils, prepared foods, produce, salty snacks and small appliances. Departments with weaker sales compared to last year included apparel, cigarettes, diapers, oils/shortening, paper, pre-recorded video, soda, sporting goods, summer seasonal and televisions.

At the end of April, Costco operated a total of 580 clubs, including 425 in the United States and Puerto Rico, 80 in Canada, 22 in the United Kingdom, seven in Korea, seven in Japan, six in Taiwan and one in Australia. BJ’s ended April with 190 clubs in 15 predominantly Eastern states.