Specialty stores outpaced other retail apparel sectors in September, as total retail sales rose just 0.1 percent to $447.7 billion from August, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Sales at apparel and accessories stores increased 0.9 percent to $21.62 billion last month, while department stores saw sales rise 0.4 percent to $13.92 million. Sales at general merchandise stores, which include department stores, fell 0.1 percent to $56.54 billion.
Revised data for July and August also showed overall sales weakness — confirming what retailers across several sectors have shown in quarterly reports: Summer was a washout.
On a year-over-year basis for September, total retail sales rose 2.4 percent. Specialty stores showed a 4.7 percent year-over-year gain, department stores showed a sluggish 0.2 percent annual uptick and general merchandise stores increased 1.5 percent in the 12 months.
“Total sales for the July 2015 through September 2015 period were up 2.3 percent from the same period a year ago,” the bureau said in the report. “The July 2015 to August 2015 percent change was revised from [plus] 0.2 percent to virtually unchanged.”
The data also revealed strength in experiential spending of consumers, which includes eating and drinking out, which steals spending share away from apparel. The bureau said on a year-over-year basis, sales at “food services and drinking places were up 7.9 percent.”
“This back-to-school retail sales season was relatively well-received, indicating that this holiday retail sales season is looking good, said Chris G. Christopher Jr., director of U.S. consumer economics at IHS Global Insight. “We are forecasting holiday retail sales to rise 3.5 percent above last year — not as strong as last year’s growth, but a solid showing. Many shoppers were most likely hanging low in September since the heavy price discounting that was traditionally associated with Black Friday is creeping into the Halloween time period. In addition, consumer retail goods, excluding food and energy prices, are falling in year-over-year terms. This is good news for consumers, not the best thing for retailers.”
The consumer spending outlook is looking relatively positive for the remainder of the year due to real disposable income gains, modest consumer price inflation, lower energy prices and a housing market that is gaining traction.