Lagging auto business drives retail sales down

Don Hogsett, December 2, 2002

With lagging car sales acting as a drag, retail sales were virtually flat in October, slipping a skimpy 0.1 percent, to a seasonally adjusted level of $273.8 billion.

But once past the bad news from Detroit, where car sales dropped off by 2.1 percent, the retail picture perked up considerably as cold weather set in across much of the country, sending consumers flocking to the comfort of malls in search of warm apparel and seasonal merchandise.

Indeed, the long battered apparel category spiked up by 4.0 percent during October, jumping back to life after languishing for months.

Underlining the strength of October's retail uptick — excluding the volatile auto sector — eight of the 12 retail categories tracked by Home Textiles Today each month posted gains, while only four declined.

The biggest winner was clearly apparel, with its 4.0 percent increase; followed by gas stations at 1.5 percent, a number frequently skewed not so much by demand as by fluctuation in gas prices. Department stores, chains and discounters enjoyed something of a comeback after a long dry spell, their sales climbing higher by 1.2 percent Non-store retailers had another good month, their sales jumping up by 1.4 percent.

Home goods categories were something of a mixed bag last month. Furniture and home furnishings stores were slightly off, by 0.1 percent, while electronics and appliances outlets gained by 0.1 percent. Building material and garden supplies stores were still rolling along on a fast track, gaining by 0.5 percent, following an even bigger gain of 1.8 percent in September.

Retail Sales in October (by channel)

Source: U.S. Department of Commerce
Clothing & accessories +4.0%
Gas stations +1.5
Department stores & discounters +1.2
Non-store retailers +1.4
Building materials & garden supplies +0.5
Health & personal care +0.4
Car dealers -2.1%
Restaurants & bars -0.8
Furniture & home furnishings -0.1
Sporting goods, hobby, books & music -0.1

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