Apparel Specialty Stores Continue to Steal Big Store Share in August

Retail sales growth picked up in August, according to data released Friday morning by the U.S. Department of Commerce, helped by sales at automobile dealers, home stores and health and personal care retailers.

In the apparel sector, specialty stores continued to gain share from their larger department and discount store competitors.

Total adjusted retail sales were $444.4 billion, up from $441.8 billion in July, a 5.8% increase on a 12-month smoothed basis, its biggest jump in 18 months.

Total retail inventory increased by 5.2% in July, the most recent month available, resulting in a slightly elevated inventory-to-sales ratio for that month.

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Total retail sales growth was helped by a rebound in autos sales, which rose by 11 percent, their biggest increase in 10 months. Retail sales excluding autos rose by an impressive 4.5% on a 12-month smoothed basis. Sales in stores that sell home products (furniture, appliances, electronics and building materials) rose by 6.9%, a 13-month growth record.

Once again, department, chain and discount stores suffered the biggest blow of any major sector, with sales down a smoothed 2.4%. July inventory at big stores plunged by 6.9%, their steepest monthly drop in almost two years, due to aggressive clearance promotions and the implementation of systems that increase inventory efficiency and visibility.

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Apparel specialty store sales rose by 3.2%, better than July’s 3 percent gain. Many chains reported a relatively strong response to early Fall and back-to-school merchandise. Specialty store inventories edged down by 1 percent in July, resulting in a slight decline in the inventory to sales ratio for the sector.

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The apparel specialty increase was more than enough to offset the big store decline’s impact on the combined sector. Department, chain, discount and specialty store sales–a reliable barometer of apparel sales–grew by 1 percent.

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