By Suzanne Kapner
A strong U.S. economy and robust consumer spending wasn't enough to boost holiday sales at many department stores and mall-based chains, as Americans continue to shift their purchases online and to other retailers.
J.C. Penney Co., Kohl's Corp. and Victoria's Secret parent L Brands Inc. all reported lower sales in the critical months of November and December. All three companies entered the holiday season on weak footing, with falling sales as they lost orders to Amazon.com Inc. as well as traditional rivals such as T.J. Maxx and Target Corp.
"Our customer data shows that a chunk of clothing spend from Kohl's customers has migrated to other retailers, most notably to Target and various off-price players," said Neil Saunders, managing director of research firm GlobalData Retail. "This is reflective of the weaker proposition at Kohl's but also underlines the success Target has had in improving its own offer."
The sales updates came a day after Macy's Inc. reported its comparable sales fell 0.6% in the holiday period and said it would close 29 stores. Bed Bath & Beyond Inc. also reported a drop in comparable sales for the third quarter. Comparable sales generally include online sales and reflect stores open at least a year.
Not all traditional retailers are struggling. Walmart Inc. and Target have reported rising sales and store traffic for much of the past year, as they ramp up online ordering and in-store pickup services. Off-price chains such as TJX Cos. have also logged healthy sales.
J.C. Penney's comparable-store sales fell 7.5% during the nine-week stretch that ended Jan. 4. Excluding appliances and furniture, categories it exited last year, comparable sales fell 5.3% in the period. The retailer maintained its financial targets for the fiscal year, which includes January.
Penney's shares, which have hovered around $1 apiece, slipped 4% in premarket trading.
Chuck Grom, an analyst with Gordon Haskett Research Advisors, said the continued decline in Penney's sales gives him little hope the company will be able to turn things around this year.
Kohl's said its comparable sales for November and December slipped 0.2%, citing weakness in its women's apparel business. It also warned that profits would be at the low end of its prior target range. Shares were down 8% to $45.45 premarket.
"We are managing the business with discipline and we expect to deliver on our earnings guidance for the full year," Chief Executive Michelle Gass said.
L Brands said comparable sales, which include sales from company-owned stores in North America open at least a year and digital sales, fell 3% for the nine weeks ended Jan. 4.
The company, which also owns Pink and Bath & Body Works, said it now expects fourth-quarter earnings of $1.85 a share. It had previously guided for earnings of $2.00 a share.
Shares fell 2% in premarket trading.
Write to Suzanne Kapner at Suzanne.Kapner@wsj.com