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October misses mark, but barely

Hampered by a holiday lull, as Halloween pulled consumers out of the malls, and further hurt by West Coast wildfires, same-store retail sales fell short of the mark during the final week of October, rising by 3.4 percent over year-before levels, but not fast enough to help sales meet their monthly target.

With conditions becoming more difficult moving into the month, sales for all four weeks of October rose by 3.4 percent, missing the targeted goal of 3.8 percent, the Redbook Retail Sales Average reported. Sales rose by 1.1 percent over October, compared to a targeted gain of 1.5 percent.

Department store, eking out a modest gain and reversing a two-year losing streak, advanced by 1.6 percent, but missed a targeted gain of 1.9 percent. Mass merchants, still running strong, posted a gain for all of October of 4.6 percent over 2002 levels, but fell short of a target of a 5.1 percent gain.

"Sales conditions remained somewhat difficult in the final week," said Redbook analyst Catlin Levis. "Retailers expected the final week to break the trend, supported by cooler weather and Halloween shopping. Some stores did do better, but for the others the holiday simply meant that the continuing lull in seasonal demand was compounded by lower traffic on Saturday as Halloween celebrations kept shoppers away."

The problem was compounded by wildfires in the West, she added. "The Southern California wildfire disrupted some business and travel. Some stores reported shipping delays due to road closures," Levis reported.

Looking ahead, November is a four-week month on the retail calendar containing three shopping events, Election Day, Veterans Day and more importantly Thanksgiving. The last falls in the final week of the month, as it did last year, "meaning there are no calendar distortions," said Levis. "Many stores have easier comparisons this year because of the softness of last year. Our preliminary target for November is 3.7 percent year-over-year same-store growth, generating a month-to-month decline, November vs. October, of 3.2 percent."

Redbook Retail Sales Average
Fourth week of October

Week ended 10/11 10/18 10/25 11/1 Month Target
*Including chain stores and traditional department stores.
Source: Redbook Retail Sales Average, a unit of Instinet, a Reuters company.
Department stores* 1.7 1.6 1.5 1.6 1.6 1.9
Discounters 4.8 4.7 4.5 4.6 4.6 5.1
Redbook Average 3.6 3.5 3.3 3.4 3.4 3.8


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