American consumer spending has been slowing over the past few months, and while the numbers still reflect growth, it could signal a softer year for retailers. Total retail sales inched up just 4 percent for the first five months of this year versus the same period in 2006, the weakest showing in four years, according to U.S. Commerce Department figures.

The 2007 WWD "Where America Shops" survey revealed that 45 percent of the women polled said they buy fewer clothes today than they did a year ago, compared to 35 percent who said they buy more. Moreover, 21 percent said they expect to buy more clothes in the next six months, compared to 27 percent with that hope last year, and 21 percent said they think they'll buy fewer clothes — but that's up by 4 percent from last year.

Not surprisingly, the survey revealed that money remains a critical factor in consumer shopping decisions. For instance, 2 percent more people said the price of gas was affecting their shopping expectations this year than in 2006.

When asked what was the most important store quality, price won out, and reflected a 1 percent rise from last year.

Among Internet shoppers, there was a 2 percent increase in women who said they shopped online because it is more economical, considering the price of gas, but the most important thing saved by shopping online was time.

Department stores appear to be as strong as ever, with 70 percent of the women saying they regularly shop this type of store, up 2 percent from 2006, compared to 59 percent who said they regularly shop discounters — a 6 percent drop from a year ago.

Traditional malls are still the preferred shopping destination, with a 57 percent share, even though that's off a point from last year. Downtown stores gained 2 points to 10 percent, while the Internet was up one point to 15 and strip malls held steady at 19 percent.

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