Belk’s holiday sales rise 5.2% over last year

Belk Inc., the largest family-owned and operated department store chain in the U.S., reported strong holiday sales, bolstered by customers’ growing tendency to shop online.

The Charlotte-based retailer said Monday that sales rose 5.2 percent in the nine-week period ending Jan. 3, compared with the same period in 2014. Sales in stores that have been open at least a year – an important measure of a retailer’s health referred to as comparable store sales – grew 4.8 percent over the same period last year.

Tim Belk, the company’s CEO, said in a statement that customers responded well to sale promotions, and that online sales increased by 44 percent over the holidays.

“Holiday sales got off to a strong start through the Thanksgiving weekend with positive momentum continuing through December,” Belk said.

The Charlotte department store fared well compared with competitors. Earlier this month, retail giant Macy’s Inc. reported that comparable-store sales rose 2.7 percent over the nine-week period, and for JCPenney Co. Inc., sales increased 3.7 percent over the same period last year.

Belk’s holiday sales look to be consistent with trends on the national level. The National Retail Federation forecast a rise of holiday sales by 4.1 percent over the holiday season, supported by tumbling gasoline prices and strong consumer spending, which in the third quarter helped to propel U.S. economic growth to its fastest pace in 11 years. The group will report final holiday retail sales Wednesday.