Target's 2012 holiday sales disappoint, staying flat from 2011

Even Bullseye, Target's mascot pup, couldn't lift holiday sales from last year.
Even Bullseye, Target's mascot pup, couldn't lift holiday sales from last year.

Target's 2012 holiday sales numbers came in below expectations, our local big-box giant announced this morning, staying "essentially flat" from last year.

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Sales increased just 0.8 percent, from $10.14 billion in 2011 to $10.21 billion for the five weeks ended December 29, 2012. That status quo looks more grim if you remember that last year, Target also had a particularly poor showing in the crucial holiday season -- the Star Tribune called it "dismal" -- lagging behind competitors and causing analysts to question the retailer's strategy.

CEO Gregg Steinhafel's comments don't do much to disguise the repeat disappointment. "December sales were below our expectations," he said last year. In this year's statement, Steinhafel echoed the sentiment, though he threw in a "slightly" before "below" to modify the pain.

Just yesterday, an analyst at Jeffries & Co. downgraded Target's stock from "buy" to "hold," citing "soft December sales and narrowing margins," MSP Business Journal reports.

Though Steinhafel's statement optimistically suggests that Target will still meet the lower end of its fourth-quarter earnings goals of $1.64 to $1.74 per share, that Jeffries analysts is more cautious, with a projection coming in at $1.40 per share. Last year, Target's shares dropped nearly 3 percent after the low December numbers forced the company to cut its profit forecast.

Despite the similarities between 2011 and 2012, Target did try to make active changes aimed at holiday shoppers. Among them was that, after the 2011 season, the company fired its ad agency, and in 2012 Maria Bamford's Crazy Target Lady and Christmas Champ characters were replaced by the Deals Duet and a version of the company's mascot, Bullseye, playing Santa. But not even a giant bull terrier running around with gifts could entice people to get shopping.

Target's first Canadian stores open up in 2013, so maybe our northern neighbors will help lift next year's figures. Until then, here's Bullseye to cheer things up:

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