WASHINGTON — Clothing and accessories stores joined general merchandise retailers in a solid holiday selling in December, but department stores continued to struggle, according to the Commerce Department’s report released Thursday.
Apparel and accessories store sales rose a seasonally adjusted 0.1 percent in December to $15.2 billion, while sales jumped 5.3 percent on a year-over-year basis. Sales at general merchandise stores rose 0.3 percent to $40.4 billion in December and gained 5.4 percent against a year ago.
“So far, all those are pretty good numbers,” said Carl Steidtmann, chief economist at Deloitte Research. “What is very clear is, in the last two months, there wasn’t a rising tide that lifted all boats, particularly in middle-market apparel, where department stores continued sweating.”
Department store sales fell 0.1 percent in December to $17.96 billion. Compared with December 2003, sales at department stores fell 1.9 percent.
“Department stores can’t get away from deflation,” said Steidtmann. “Even though they are moving a modest amount of an increasing volume of goods, they can’t get any revenue growth because prices are falling.”
The National Retail Federation was more bullish about the retail sales results in the aggregate.
“From electronics to apparel, most retail sectors experienced strong holiday gains,” said Rosalind Wells, chief economist at the NRF.
Holiday retail sales in the GAFS category, comprising general merchandise stores; clothing and accessories stores; furniture and home furnishings stores; electronics and appliance stores, and sporting goods, hobby, book and music stores, increased 5.2 percent over last year to $216.32 billion, up from $205.63 billion, according to Wells.
In the overall economy, retail sales rose 0.5 percent in December, boosted by increases in electronics and auto sales.