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Department and Specialty Stores Show Signs of Life in October

Are traditional department and apparel specialty stores turning the corner? Recently released data from the U.S. Department of Commerce seem to suggest that possibility.

Retail sales jumped 4.6% in October, helped by a spike at building materials and garden supply retailers in the wake of the brutal hurricane season. Overall sales were $486.6 billion, a more than 5 percent increase on a 12-month smoothed basis.

Sales at department, chain and discount stores were flat compared to last year at $12.7 billion, but rose by 0.8% on a 12-month smoothed basis, their fourth straight month of slight increases, and the biggest monthly gain in four and a half years.

Sales at clothing and accessories specialty stores increased by 1.8% compared to October 2016, to $21.9 billion, which translates to 2.6% on a 12-month smoothed basis, the best showing in more than two years.

At the combined department, chain, discount and specialty sectors, where most of the traditional retail apparel business is done, sales increased by 1.1% to $34.5 billion, a rise of almost 2 percent on a smoothed basis, the biggest increase in the combined measure in almost two and a half years.

The inventory to sales ratios in the department and specialty store sectors fell slightly in October, 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 6.8% in October to $52.1 billion, the third straight month of deceleration in the channel.