Retail sales ride Sept. roller coaster

NEW YORK In a volatile week of seesaw retail activity that marked the first anniversary of terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, same-store retail sales during the second week of September improved by 2.0 percent over year-ago levels but were off slightly from the week before, according to the Redbook Retail Sales Average.

Underlining the unpredictability of the week, and the overall tricky retail environment, department stores actually beat their plan slightly for the two weeks month-to-date, while discounters came in slightly behind their target. For the first two weeks of September, department store sales slipped by only 1.5 percent, compared with a steeper forecast decline of 2.3 percent. Discounters, on the other hand, missed the mark, with sales of 4.5 percent coming in slightly shy of the 4.7 percent target. So far, sales for the month are up 0.5 percent from August levels, modestly ahead of a targeted gain of 0.4 percent.

"Sales were mixed and volatile in the second week of September, showing sharp variations across the course of the week itself," said Redbook analyst Catlin Levis. "Business tailed off sharply in the middle of the week, only to build up again into the weekend. The net result was not quite as strong as the first week of the month but sufficient to leave our model somewhat ahead of plan month-to-date."

Having some impact, said Levis, was the anniversary of last year's terrorist attacks. "Many stores delayed their openings in observance of Sept. 11. Customers, who were in a subdued mood, didn't shop much that day." The year before, by contrast, "people were stocking up on emergency, items such as candles, flashlights, fuels, bottled water and personal care products. Comparisons in these categories were tough over last year."

Leading merchandise categories for the week varied according to store specialty, said Levis, "but included home appliances, hardware, electronics and home goods. Regional patterns were mixed, but some retailers noted the Midwest and West were stronger than the rest of the country."

Redbook Retail Sales Average
Second week of September

Week ended 9/7 9/14 9/21 9/28 10/5 Month Target
*Including chain stores and traditional department stores.
Source: Redbook Retail Sales Average, a unit of Instinet, a Reuters company.
Department Stores* -1.5 -1.6 -1.5 -2.3
Discounters 4.7 4.3 4.5 4.7
Redbook Average 2.2 2.0 2.1 2.0

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