By Kali Hays
with contributions from Evan Clark
 on March 15, 2017

Retail sales in the U.S. edged up last month in line with Wall Street’s expectations, but apparel and accessories sales didn’t see a similar boost, according to new Census Bureau data.

Seasonally adjusted February sales for clothing and accessories retailers fell 0.5 percent in February to $21.7 billion from $21.8 billion the month before and department stores also lagged behind, with sales coming in at $56.2 billion, a 1.1 percent decline from the $56.4 billion in January sales.

E-commerce sales, however, rose by 1.2 percent for the month to $50 billion from $49 billion and sales for the retail sector as a whole grew by 0.1 percent, to $474 billion from $473.6 billion in January.

The sales picture for apparel is a little brighter when compared to last year. February sales for clothing and accessories retailers are up 1.6 percent and sales for e-commerce are up 13 percent. On the whole, retail sales compared with February 2016 were up 5.6 percent.

“We believe today’s results are encouraging considering that January and February figures represent the strongest [year-over-year] gains since 2012 and expectations for a sequential slowdown were largely baked in due to delays in federal tax refunds,” said Scot Ciccarelli, an analyst with RBC Capital Markets.

Telsey Advisory Group pointed out in February that the Internal Revenue Service had issued only $28.9 billion in refund dollars as of Feb. 10, compared to $94 billion by the same time last year — a drop of close to 70 percent.

Department stores are still struggling though, and the government’s February 2017 sales figures represent a 5.6 drop compared to the same month last year.

A 6 percent decline in sales came through for department stores in 2016 as well, and government data showed that overall, shoppers are spending less on apparel than they have in previous years while spending more money overall.

Something that likely isn’t helping sales is the cost of goods, which have increased from a year ago.

Apparel prices in February rose 0.4 percent from a year earlier, with a 2.2 percent gain in men’s apparel and a 1.4 percent rise in women’s apparel, according to the latest reading from the government. Footwear, which is included in the apparel category, helped pull down the total, falling 1.1 percent.

For More on Retail Sales, See:

From Looking Good to Feeling Good: Shoppers Spending Less on Apparel

Big Drop in Tax Refunds Means Trouble for Some Retailers

Retail Sales Rise Across the Board in January

Weekly Retail Sales Slump on Wintry Weather

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