NEW YORK — The month that was expected to provide some of the easiest retail comparisons of the year instead provided its biggest disappointment.
Retailers marked the one-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks last month with disappointing sales in malls that came up short on acquisitive consumers. Mild weather in many parts of the country limited sweater and outerwear sales, but retailers and analysts agreed that the psyche of the American consumer is a far larger problem than weather or even the West Coast dock lockout: American consumers appear far more concerned about their own finances, the nation’s economy and the possibility of war than about having precisely the right look for fall.

Dramatized by disappointments from retail darlings Wal-Mart, Target and Kohl’s, retailers Thursday reported negative or below-plan same-store sales for September, as sluggish sales activity retarded even further toward the end of the month. Already two months into the third quarter, a number of retailers, including Federated Department Stores, Sears, Roebuck & Co., Talbots and Kohl’s, guided Wall Street analysts lower. And more are sure to follow, observers cautioned.

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