The first week of the 2015 retail calendar was marked by difficult sales trends, exacerbated by challenging weather, which hurt business at apparel and department stores.
The weekly chain store sales index of The Retail Economist and Goldman Sachs came in with a value of 538.9 during the week ended Saturday, 2.1 percent below the prior week and 1.9 percent above its 2014 counterpart.
Sequential declines are commonplace in the weeks following the conclusion of the holiday season, but the 1.9 percent year-on-year increase was the smallest since the 1.1 percent rise registered during the week ended Dec. 13.
Dollar stores posted the best results for the week, with wholesale clubs and discounters also outperforming the average.
However, business was weaker than during the 2014 period for department and apparel stores as well as online-only, drug, furniture, grocery and non-apparel specialty retailers.
“February is a low-volume month for retail sales, which makes it more susceptible to volatility from Mother Nature, which affected the industry’s business during the past week, and consumers’ timing of their purchases,” said Michael Niemira, principal and chief economist of The Retail Economist. “Therefore, typically you would not read too much into the latest week’s softness. More importantly, the improvement in the U.S. economy and the labor markets are likely to keep the pace of spending healthy in 2015.”
Neither the weather nor the price of gasoline cooperated with retailers’ hopes for the week. A series of winter storms buffeted sections of the Northeast and Midwest and sub-zero wind-chills hit several parts of the country.
“In fact, this was the third coldest start to a retail February in more than 24 years for the Northeast,” noted Weather Trends International.
Still, average temperatures across the country were 6.6 degrees warmer than during the 2014 week, although 0.2 degrees colder than their long-term average.
While still 33.8 percent below their year-ago level, gasoline prices moved up an average of 12.3 cents a gallon over the prior week, to a median of $2.191 a gallon.