Compared with December 2000, however, sales declined 0.4 percent. For the full year ending Dec. 31, sales at apparel and accessories stores rose 0.5 percent, to $169.32 billion.
“This is directly a function of promotional sales,” said Rajeev Dhawan, director of economic forecasting at Georgia State University. “During the holiday season in December, the war on terrorism progressed well+and that lifted the mood of consumers.”
Charles W. McMillion, chief economist at MBG Information Services, noted that it was a weak year, but “it ended on a good note in December.”
“We know that sales came at the expense of retailers severely cutting profits on top of many months of price cuts, and there were last-minute price cuts going into+Christmas that helped move inventory,” he said.
Overall retail sales — excluding food services — dropped 0.3 percent, to $267.24 billion in December. Compared with December 2000, overall retail sales rose 3.8 percent.
Department store sales, excluding leased departments, posted a slight increase of 0.6 percent in December, to $19.95 billion, and a gain of 2.8 percent against December 2000. For the year, department store sales were even with 2000, at $236.79 billion, according to McMillion. General-merchandise store sales also gained slightly in December by 0.5 percent, to $35.30 billion.
Despite the uplift in December, Dhawan expects sales to fall in January and February.
“How many more sales can they have?” he asked rhetorically. “After a point, profitability becomes an issue.”