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Specialty Stores Dominate August Retail Sales

Retail sales rose by a less-than-expected amount in August, all but crushing hopes that the improving job market and declining oil prices would jump-start consumer spending in a big way.

However, specialty stores had a good month, helped by back-to-school shoppers and the continued strength of fast fashion players.

Total retail sales rose by 2.2% compared to last August, to $447.7 billion, according to data recently released by the U.S. Department of Commerce. On a 12-month smoothed basis, sales were up by 3.5%, helped by a still-robust automobile sector, where sales increased by 7 percent. Excluding autos, retail sales grew by 2.7%. Non-store sales, driven by pure-play e-commerce, enjoyed the biggest increase, up by 7.5% on a 12-month smoothed basis, followed by restaurant sales, which rose by 6 percent.


Sales at department, chain and discount stores dropped by 1.3% on a smoothed basis, even with July’s revised drop and steeper than June’s decline of 0.8%. Department stores continue to lose share to other channels, particularly in apparel, where specialty stores (including fast fashion players) and e-commerce retailers are experiencing above-average growth.


Apparel specialty stores sales rose by 4.3% on a smoothed basis, their third month of accelerating sales growth despite reports from many retailers that back-to-school was slower than expected. Declining prices and the highly promotional environment are being blamed by many for the slow sales growth.Retail3

For the combined department and specialty sector, a barometer of overall apparel sales, sales increased by 2 percent in the month, their best performance since May.Retail4

In June, the most recent month for which inventory information is available, inventory to sales ratios were flat across all key retail sectors.