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Same-store sales flatten out

New York — With traffic slowing across the board, same-store retail sales barely edged ahead during the third week of October, managing just a skimpy 0.1 percent gain, according to the widely watched bellwether, the Redbook Retail Sales Average.

After recording a solid gain of 2.3 percent the prior week, sales lost all their forward momentum, said Redbook analyst Catlin Levis. For the three weeks month-to-date, sales were up just 1.0 percent from year-ago levels.

"Sales growth fell back in the third week of October after retailers failed to sustain the previous week's brief up-tick," said Levis. "Both discount and department store sales weakened. The slowdown was widespread and generally attributed to declines in traffic rather than a lack of interest in any particular merchandise category."

Category reports from retailers around the nation, Levis added, "indicated that consumers were focusing on non-seasonal items like home products and jewelry and neglecting the seasonal apparel that is currently the focus of department store merchandising. Discount stores fared better on their more diversified merchandise bases."

Some retailers, she noted, "reported Halloween-related business was down from last year's levels but hope that sales will pick up as we get closer to Halloween."

Americans, she pointed out, remain anxious after terrorist attacks and the recent anthrax scare. "Given that many uncertainties, such as anthrax scares and the war in Afghanistan, are facing the country, these are continuing to raise consumers' fears about their finances, future and safety. Consumers are scaling back and canceling holiday events. Consumers have become more cautious about what they buy, where they buy, and how much they spend. Many retailers are continuing to lay off workers in an effort to offset slowing sales in this challenging economic environment. Regionally, the northeast and west were least affected by the slump."

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