The TJX business model is built to have tremendous flexibility and grow with the times, enabling us to navigate through economic downturns as well as upturns. Over our 37-year history, we have achieved consistent, strong performance. In fact, over this period we have had only one year with a comparable store sales decline. Over the last 18 years, we have delivered annual comparable store sales increases each year, and earnings have grown solidly. Our long, successful track record through many types of economic and retail environments is one of the reasons for our confidence that our strong top- and bottom-line growth will continue for many years to come.
On the top line, we have great growth opportunities with our value proposition. At TJX, value has been our mission since Day One and we are convinced that our off-price combination of fashion, brands, quality and price will continue to be a tremendous draw for consumers in up or down economies. While we have substantially added to our customer base and expanded our customer reach, our research tells us that there remains significant opportunity to further our market penetration and tap consumers who have not yet shopped our stores. In recent years, we have been successfully attracting a larger percentage of younger customers among our new U.S. customers, which bodes well for our future. To continue attracting and retaining more new customers, we plan to continue to leverage our global marketing, upgrade the shopping experience in our stores, offer exciting in-store initiatives, and further build our brand presence. Overall, we believe we continue to have significant growth opportunities in our four major divisions, both in the U.S. and internationally. Beyond our successful brick-and-mortar business, we continue to view e-commerce as a great opportunity for TJX. E-commerce gives us another platform to reach even more consumers with our great values, offering them the ability and convenience to shop 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
On the bottom line, we believe we continue to have significant opportunities, through the scaling of certain businesses and operating efficiencies. As effective as our supply chain is, we are continuing with our efforts to become even more precise at delivering the right goods to the right stores at the right time. We believe this will lead to more freshness and better values in our stores, which can help drive traffic as well as the bottom line the better we become at this. Operating with leaner, faster turning inventories over the last several years has led to excellent results for our business. Lean, fast-turning inventories allow us to be more nimble in the marketplace and be smarter in our purchasing, which, in turn, gives us the ability to drive higher merchandise margins. At TJX, being a low-cost operator allows us to offer customers great values while maintaining strong profitability. Underpinning our confidence in the sustainability of our profitable growth is our financial strength and flexibility. Our strong operations and low-cost model have enabled us to deliver superior financial returns that are among the highest in retail.