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No coal here! Retail's holiday winners

It's hard to drown out all the negative noise coming from the retail sector this year.

Nearly every day brings another slam to the industry, with the most recent bad news coming from Best Buy, which said that comparable-store sales in the U.S. fell 0.9 percent over the holiday period. The electronics chain is just the latest name on a growing list of retailers that delivered disappointing holiday results—a list that already includes such names as , , and .

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According to the National Retail Federation, holiday sales rose 3.8 percent in 2013, missing forecasts of tepid 3.9 percent growth.

An employee rings up a customer at Macy's in New York.
Ron Antonelli | Bloomberg | Getty Images

"This year, it felt like the consumer was more in control than the retailers were," said Bob Moncrieff, PwC's retail and consumer advisory leader.

Still, it wasn't all bad for retailers this holiday. The high-income consumer continued to shop, and was "very active and willing to spend a significant amount on luxury items," said Hana Ben-Shabat, a partner in the retail practice of the consulting firm A.T. Kearney.

The middle-income shopper also spent, but was particular about price and product, saving their purchases for special items and good deals.

"I think we are at a point that consumer behavior is much more complicated than it used to be," she said.

Below is a list of companies that bucked the trend and delivered strong results in November and December.

High-end jewelers Tiffany and Zale

Fine jewelry performed particularly well, benefiting and , which both posted same-store sales gains that were boosted by avoiding discounts.

Analysts pointed to Tiffany's momentum in North America, calling attention to its compelling fashion jewelry offerings and favorable gold costs.

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"The fashion jewelry category has improved with new product introductions, particularly in the Atlas collection, helped by the company's stepped up marketing of the product at holiday," Wells Fargo analyst Paul Lejuez said in a research note.


Midtier department store outperformed the sector by posting comparable-store sales gains of 3.6 percent for the November to December period, prompting it to reiterate its earnings forecast for 2013. Handbags, activewear, coats, dresses, and men's suits and shoes were among the best-performing categories, and the retailer's higher-end Bloomingdale's stores also performed well, management said.

Cramer: Best Buy needs a reset

"We think Macy's emerged a winner from this promotional holiday period, and [it] remains our top department store pick," said Morgan Stanley analyst Kimberly Greenberger.


Same-store sales at Gap rose 1 percent in the holiday selling period, which analysts attributed to compelling promotions and trend-right merchandise. The company reiterated its yearly guidance of $2.57 to $2.65 per share, and said it is comfortable delivering at the high end of that range.

"The company managed the business well during a difficult and highly promotional holiday selling season for many," said Richard Jaffe, an analyst at Stifel Nicolaus. "With sales nearly in-line with plan, we believe inventory is well controlled with little excess merchandise to be cleared in January, enabling Gap to start spring with a clean and fresh assortment."

Abercrombie & Fitch

A surprise winner this holiday was struggling teen retailer Abercrombie & Fitch, which slashed prices down to 50 percent off the whole store throughout the season. The company raised its full-year guidance to $1.55 to $1.65 per share, up from $1.40 to $1.50.

Analysts cited the company's online sales gain of 25 percent, which helped offset weakness at its physical stores. They also said that significant markdowns allowed the retailer to come into the new year with well-controlled inventory levels.

(Read more: Retailers' biggest problem right now? The sale bin)

Still, although the retailer beat expectations, its same-store sales declined 6 percent.

"We continue to believe Abercrombie & Fitch needs to reposition its brands in order to resonate with a new generation of consumers, which could take years," Morgan Stanley's Greenberger said.

New York & Company

Women's specialty retailer New York & Company reaffirmed its fourth-quarter earnings guidance after reporting that same-store sales for the holiday period rose 1 percent.

(Read more: JC Penney closing 33 stores, slashing 2,000 jobs)

CEO Gregory Scott said he was "pleased" with the retailer's performance given the challenging retail environment.

Finish Line

Athletic retailer Finish Line said in its most recent earnings call that same-store sales rose in the mid-single-digit range, and guidance inferred that the stores' fourth-quarter comparable sales will also increase in that range, according to Sterne Agee analyst Sam Poser.

"Current trends in basketball and running footwear, led by Nike, continue to accelerate beyond our expectations," Poser said, adding that sales in its Macy's shop-in-shops "remain robust."

—By CNBC's Krystina Gustafson. Follow her on Twitter @KrystinaGustafs.

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