Retailers are not reporting the most robust August on record, but in the continuing battle for the hearts and pocketbooks of America’s consumers, discounters Wal-Mart and Target posted significant gains over their department-store and general merchandise brethren in the critical August sales period.

Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT) reported an 11.1% increase in net sales for the four-week period ending August 30, 2002, of $18.373 billion, over the $16.531 billion in the similar period in the prior year. Sales for the 30-week period were $134.202 billion, an increase of 12.5% over the $119.325 billion in the similar period in the prior year.

Target Corp. (NYSE: TGT) reported a 7.5% increase in its net retail sales for the four weeks ended August 31, 2002, to $3.231 billion from $3.005 billion for the four-week period ended September 1, 2001. Comparable-store sales decreased 0.1% from fiscal August 2001.

Meanwhile, Sears, Roebuck and Co. today announced total domestic store revenues for the four weeks ended August 31, 2002, were $2.0 billion, an 8.7% decrease compared with the four weeks ended September 1, 2001. Comparable domestic store revenues took a bigger hit — down 11.1%.

Federated Department Stores, Inc. today reported total sales of $1.086 billion for the four weeks ended August 31, 2002, a 3.8% drop from total sales of $1.129 billion for the same period last year. On a same-store basis, Federated's August sales were down 5.8%.

Sears chairman and CEO Alan J. Lacy put a positive spin on the numbers. "Our strategic initiatives are progressing well and continue to deliver operating income improvement. As we have previously stated, the greatest disruption at the store level from the implementation of our strategic initiatives is occurring this quarter, particularly this month. We continue to expect 2002 full year comparable earnings per share to increase approximately 22% to $5.15 from the prior year amount of $4.22."

In the company's full-line stores, hardlines sales declined for the month due to sales decreases in home appliances, home office and lawn and garden categories. Apparel sales continued to falter, posting double-digit declines in most merchandise categories. Off-mall formats experienced a low single-digit sales decrease, with declines in all formats.

Target’s results came with a caveat from chairman and CEO Bob Ulrich. "Sales for the corporation were below plan for the month of August," said Ulrich. "Our outlook for the third quarter remains unchanged from the guidance we provided three weeks ago. Specifically, we indicated that the median First Call estimate of $0.31 for the third quarter was achievable, given reasonable sales performance, but could be at risk by a penny or two if sales remained weaker than expected."