RETAIL STATISTICS FOR JANUARY SHOW SPECIALTY STORES HAD ROUGH TIME
Byline: Jennifer Owens
WASHINGTON — Department store sales had a relatively bright January, but it was tough for apparel and accessories stores, according to retail statistics released by the Commerce Department Thursday.
Sales in department stores last month posted a 7.6 percent gain over a year earlier. Against December, the month’s sales seasonally adjusted were up 1.3 percent for department stores, excluding leased departments. For all general merchandisers — a category that includes discounters and variety stores as well as department stores — January sales gained 6.1 percent against January 1996 and were also up 1.3 percent against December.
Results in apparel and accessories stores were on the bleak side, though. Against a year ago, their sales in January were down 0.3 percent, and against December, they were down 0.9 percent.
Things also looked dimmer for the apparel stores in the face of revised December figures released Thursday by Commerce. The revised figures show December sales — seasonally adjusted — in these stores rose only 0.4 percent against November, about one-fourth the 1.5 percent rise first reported by the government last month. Year-to-year, the revised December sales were up 0.8 percent against December 1995, compared with a 3 percent gain originally reported.
The revised figures plumped up general merchandiser results a little bit, however, showing a 0.8 percent hike in December against November, slightly better than the 0.5 percent previously reported. For the year, general merchandise sales showed a revised gain of 4.9 percent, compared with an originally reported 4.4 percent. Department stores in December were up 6.2 percent year-to-year, on a revised basis, against an originally reported 4.4 percent gain. Against November, department store’s December sales were up 1.7 percent, compared with an originally reported 0.9 percent increase.
Ira Silver, chief economist for J.C. Penney Co., said the figures illuminate the continuing shift of retail apparel dollars from specialty shops to department stores.
“Up to the fourth quarter, apparel looked like it was coming back,” he said. “But these numbers show that apparel specialty stores are having some serious problems.”
Silver said fourth-quarter comparisons show that department store sales rose 6 percent in 1996 against 1995, while specialty store sales improved only 0.2 percent.
“If sales are important, I can’t imagine that this bodes well for apparel specialty stores,” he said. “This could really be called a collapse in the momentum.”
Silver went on to say, “I guess it’s discouraging for the whole apparel trade because people are not buying apparel.”
Peter Harding, an analyst with Kurt Salmon Associates in New York, agreed, saying that the shift is a broader one, with consumer dollars moving from apparel to service-oriented markets such as restaurants. It’s a trend, he said, which has persisted throughout the Nineties.
“Although consumer confidence numbers appear to be pretty good, it’s not translating into a rise in soft goods,” Harding said. “I think it just continues to show that there’s nothing driving the customer into the stores out there.”
Harding added that he doesn’t expect those dollars to return to retailers’ pockets anytime soon. “I don’t think there’s going to be a massive shift back,” he said. “It doesn’t appear to be on the horizon.”
Overall, retail sales increased to $209 billion in January, a 0.6 percent rise over December and a 4.9 percent rise over the same month last year. Expected by analysts, the rise was the largest advance since identical 0.7 percent gains last September and October.