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Retail Sales Slow, Consumers Choose Cars Over Clothes in September

Retail sales growth slowed again in September, according to data released by the U.S. Department of Commerce this morning.

Total adjusted retail sales rose by 2.4% compared to last September, to $447.7 billion, a mere 0.1% better than last month and less than economists had hoped for. On a 12-month smoothed basis, sales were up by 3.2%,

Sliding gas prices and the strengthening job market helped automobile retailers—who collectively saw their sales jump by 9 percent on 12-month smoothed basis—the most. Taking cars out of the mix, retail sales increased by only 1.7%, its smallest increase in four months.

Big gains were also enjoyed by the restaurant/food service sector, where sales increased by 7 percent.

However, growth slowed at non-store retailers (where pure-play e-commerce sales are reported) to 4.7%, the smallest monthly increase in eight months. Online-only retailers are seeing their share eroded by omnichannel merchants offering multiple distribution platforms.


After five months of declining sales, department, chain and discount stores finally edged into positive territory, increasing by 0.2% in September. Department stores continue to lose share to other channels, particularly in apparel, where specialty stores (including fast fashion players) continue to experience above-average growth.


Apparel specialty stores sales rose by 4.7% on a smoothed basis, their fourth month of accelerating sales despite the highly competitive and promotional environment.


For the combined department and specialty sector, a barometer of overall apparel sales, sales increased by 2.9% in the month, their best performance since May.