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Cars Push Retail Higher in September, While Apparel Gains are Small

Americans chose rides over threads last month, according to data released last week by the U.S. Census Bureau.

September’s surge in retail sales was driven primarily by a jump in performance at auto dealerships and gas stations. The month-over-month increase in total retail sales was 1.6%, to $483.9 billion.

On a 12-month smoothed basis, retail sales rose by 4.7%, their biggest increase since January.

However, the increase at apparel-oriented department, chain, discount and specialty stores was more tempered.

Sales at department, chain and discount stores fell by 1.3% to $12.6 billion, flat on a 12-month smoothed basis.

Sales at clothing and accessories specialty stores increased by 1.1% compared to the year-ago period, to $21.7 billion, and increased 1.6% on a 12-month smoothed basis.

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At the combined department, chain, discount and specialty sectors, where most of the traditional retail apparel business is done, sales inched up negligibly to $34.3 billion, a rise of 0.9% on a smoothed basis.

The inventory to sales ratios in the department and specialty store sectors ticked up slightly in August, the most recent month for which the measure is available.

Sales in the non-store retail sector, which includes pure-play e-commerce, increased by 9.2% in September to $52.4 billion, only the second single-digit increase in the measure in more than two years.