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Retail comps chill to early Feb. freeze

Same-store retail sales declined slightly, and fell far short of their targets, during the first week of February as consumers kept their hands firmly in their pockets — partly to escape the bone-chilling cold and partly due to a lack of clearance sales that might encourage them to pull out their wallets.

The Redbook Retail Sales Average, a gauge of same-store sales nationwide, fell by 0.2 percent from year-ago levels, way beneath the target of a 1.2 percent increase. When measured against the month before, sales dropped 1.6 percent behind January levels, compared with a much smaller forecast decline of 0.3 percent.

With a cold snap across much of the nation keeping shoppers bundled up at home, "Most stores were tracking below their monthly targets as the period ended," said Redbook analyst Catlin Levis. "The period started slowly partly due to weather conditions across the country. Additionally, February represents the start of the spring season, and a renewed focus on full-price selling, with fewer incentives in the form of clearance sales and inventory markdowns to draw customers into the stores. Hence, a slow start to the month was not unexpected, especially in the current rather weak retail environment."

Levis noted, "Like January, February is typically regarded as a transitional month, combining final clearance of winter merchandise with early introduction of spring goods." The month is the start of most retailer's first quarter on the traditional retail calendar.

Despite including two shopping events — Valentine's Day and Presidents' Day — February is "typically the smallest month of the quarter in sales volume," Levis observed.

Redbook Retail Sales Average
First week of February

Week ended 2/8 2/15 2/22 3/1 Month Target
*Including chain stores and traditional department stores.
Source: Redbook Retail Sales Average, a unit of Instinet, a Reuters company.
Department stores* -3.1 -3.1 -2.8
Discounters 1.5 1.5 3.4
Redbook average -0.2 -0.2 1.1


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