WASHINGTON – Retail sales were weaker than expected in November, as department store sales fell and specialty store sales remained stagnant, the Commerce Department’s monthly report showed Wednesday.
Sales at apparel and accessories stores were flat at $21.4 billion on a seasonally adjusted basis, while sales at department stores fell 0.2 percent to $12.7 billion. Sales at general merchandise stores, a category that includes department stores and discounters, rose 0.1 percent to $55.4 billion.
Non-store sales, which have been outperforming brick and mortar stores, grew 0.1 percent in line with overall retail sales.
In the overall economy, sales edged up 0.1 percent to $465.5 billion, falling below economists’ expectations.
Chris G. Christopher, Jr., director of consumer economics at IHS Global Insight, said November retail sales were “slightly disappointing.”
“Department stores continue to get hammered while the onliners are clearly outpacing the traditional brick and mortar retailers,” Christopher said. “Department stores have been under water since July, while onliners keep moving up.”
Christopher said there were broad-based gains in retail sales, but a “handful of retailers did not fair very well.”
He said the winning sectors included furniture, electronics, building materials, grocery, online, general merchandise and restaurants. The weakness in sales last month was due to unseasonably warm weather, which “kept clothing sales flat,” while sport good outlets “took a hit,” Christopher said.
Another factor he pointed to was a weakening in auto sales.
“Looking ahead, holiday shopping in December is likely to remain strong as the surge in consumer confidence will boost retail sales,” Christopher said. “Real consumer spending will remain relatively robust into the next year, supported by rising employment, real disposable income and household net worth.”
In addition, household finances are in “good shape,” he said.
IHS said holiday retail sales are still in line to rise 3.7 percent above last year, which would be stronger than the 3.2 percent increase in holiday sales in 2015 but not as a strong as sales growth in 2014.
Jack Kleinhenz, chief economist at the National Retail Federation, which uses its own calculations based on the government’s data, said the 0.1 percent monthly increase in retail sales came off strong sales growth in October.
“Consumers were able to take advantage of low prices throughout the first half of the holiday season, checking out with full baskets but paying less even though purchasing was up,” Kleinhenz said. “The combination of job and wage gains led to solid holiday spending by American households.”
“Consumers have the wherewithal to spend but households remain measured and rational, which is no surprise given their history since the recovery began in 2009,” Kleinhenz added.
The NRF said it expects retail sales for the holiday season to “meet or exceed” its holiday forecast, which is projected to grow 3.6 percent against November and December last year.