Dept. stores provide unexpected lift

Don Hogsett, August 27, 2001

Lifted by an unexpectedly strong performance at the nation's battered department stores — sales still down, but not by much — same-store sales at America's big retailers climbed by 2.7 percent over the prior week's level during the second week of August, according to the widely watched Redbook Average.

It was the third week in a row that sales managed to exceed plan, snapping a long losing streak that goes back almost two years. Perhaps more importantly, the department store channel, losing ground since last summer, showed some signs of firming up. Sales were off by only 0.3 percent, compared with a much bigger drop of 1.2 percent the week before. For the month to date, department stores were down by 0.7 percent, compared with a forecast decline of 0.6 percent. Sales at the nation's mass merchants were up by 4.7 percent during the week.

"Sales were slightly better than last week," said Redbook analyst Catlin Levis. "Most retailers indicated that they were on plan, and some said that they were tracking the upper end of their target ranges month to date. Back-to-School was the focus, led by children's apparel and supported by other Back-to-School items like stationery and other school supplies."

Elsewhere, said Levis, "home-related merchandise from furnishings to hardware to appliances continued to show strength, reflecting the long boom in housing markets. Department stores noted interest in seasonal fall hard lines as well."

Levis noted, "The month remains transitional as retailers combine the remnants of summer clearance selling with fall restocking and Back-to-School promotion. Stores selling food and basic household goods reported solid business. Customers are spending money on lower-margin goods, such as food, as opposed to higher-margin merchandise, such as apparel."

Redbook Retail Sales Average
Second week of August

Week ended 8/11 8/18 8/25 9/1 Month Target
*Including chain stores and traditional department stores.
Source: Redbook Retail Sales Average, a unit of Instinet, a Reuters company.
Department Stores* -1.1 -0.3 -0.7 -0.6
Discounters 4.7 4.7 4.7 4.0
Redbook Average 2.4 2.7 2.5 2.2

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