It says plenty about the market's low expectations for David Jones when a flat quarterly sales result is greeted with wild enthusiasm. Trouble is, it's hard to stay enthusiastic about a company going nowhere.
DJs' shares were up by as much as 15 cents this morning to a heady $2.87, allegedly on the strength of first quarter sales not falling. And that's all they did.
Total sales for the 13 weeks to October 26 were up 2.1 per cent, but same-store sales if you exclude the Canberra store undergoing refurbishment were up just 0.6 per cent – effectively flat. Include the Canberra shop and sales were down 0.3 per cent – still effectively flat.
Walking away: Outgoing David Jones chief Paul Zahra. Photo: Louie Douvis
So the story for mid-market department stores remains the same. No, the consumer isn't on strike – they're still spending plenty of discretionary dollars but they aren't being enticed to do it in David Jones or Myer.
The fight CEO Paul Zahra has put in over the past three years to make up for the failings of the previous management and board is a bit like Tony Abbott's version of Afghanistan – not a victory, not a defeat, but a hope that the place is better for us having been there.
For all the speculation about what Zahra's resignation means, it comes down to the realisation that it's not going to get any easier.
None of the factors that make a flat sales result look "good" are going away. Consumers continue to be empowered by technology to make smarter choices amongst a far greater array of offerings. Those who desire to spend lavishly have increasing options to do so more ostentatiously amidst a more luxurious experience. DJs has to run flat out and smarter just to stand still. You can get tired doing that.
Michael Pascoe is a BusinessDay contributing editor.