Back-to-School fails to light fire under September retail sales in US

US retailers saw just a modest increase in overall same store sales last month with stores open at least a year performing just O.6% above September 2013. Back-to-School selling was strong early on but sales slowed as the month progressed. Overall, sales at stores open at least a year rose 5.1%, according to the Thomson Reuters same-store sales index.

It had been hoped that stronger job growth numbers, a drop in US unemployment and lower gas prices would help to open up wallets and fuel a bigger lift in sales in September. But early September trading momentum was just not sustained. Ken Perkins of Retail Metrics told Investors’ Business Daily: “September got off to a strong start. But once back-to-school selling faded, there really wasn’t much traffic or buzz at retail in the back two-thirds of the month, and sales lagged.”

This assessment of the month was confirmed by Costco’s figures which, earlier this week, reported just a 4% increase, missing analyst expectations of a 5.6% rise. Gap also disappointed late Wednesday announcing that sales fell 3% at its signature stores, on top of a 3% dip a year ago. Discount retailer Fred’s saw a slight uptick in its September comps, but the increase also fell short of expectations with store sales growth of 0.2% versus an increase of 2.8% in the same period last year.

At Banana Republic the news was better with global comps rising 2% versus a 5% decline a year ago and Old Navy Global also saw gains with comp sales rising 1% versus a 2% dip last year.

Amongst September’s real winners was L Brands. It saw sales grow 6% for the five weeks ended Oct. 4, 2014, topping estimates for a 3% rise. Specialty retail chain Stein Mart also did better than expected recording a same-store sales increase of 4.9%, and value retailer Cato Corp was pleased with its 5% rise. CEO John Cato commented: “September same-store sales were above our guidance and also above our current trend.”

Teen retailer Zumiez posted a 6.6% lift in its September comps, above the expected 2.7% from analysts and The Buckle, said comparable store sales increased 2.2% for the month.

The months of September and October are typically considered the “calm before the storm” prior to the crucial Holiday shopping season, which kicks off in November. The National Retail Federation is predicting that US retail sales during the Holiday season will rise 4.1% to a three-year high of nearly $617bn from last year.

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