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Big-box US retailer Target has reported the biggest quarterly sales surge in its 58-year history, sending one of the clearest signals yet that shifts in consumer behaviour in the pandemic are widening the gap between the strongest chains and their weaker rivals.

Brian Cornell, chief executive, hailed Target’s performance as “extraordinary” as the company on Wednesday disclosed a 24 per cent year-on-year rise in second quarter like-for-like sales.

Such an upswing is remarkable for a retailer the size of Target, which opened its first outlet in Minnesota in 1962 and has since expanded to 1,900 stores across the US.

The stronger-than-forecast figures pushed shares in Target, which have been trading near record highs to give the company a market capitalisation of $68.5bn, up 4.8 per cent in pre-market trading.

Target’s performance, driven by ecommerce but also supported by strong growth in stores, outshone robust numbers earlier this week from Walmart, which said comparable sales at its US business rose 9.3 per cent.

Customer demand had been strong across categories, Target said, as Americans spending more time at home bought goods from video games to garden supplies. Sales of electronics rose more than 70 per cent, home categories such as kitchenware 30 per cent, and food, beverage and other essentials 20 per cent.

During lockdown, big-box chains had a huge advantage over clothing outlets, department stores and other more discretionary retailers that were forced to close.