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Specialty Chains Steal Big Store Apparel Share in April

Specialty apparel stores took another big bite out of department and discount store market share in April, according to data released Monday by the U.S. Department of Commerce.

However, total sales at apparel-centric retailers, or the combined department and specialty channels, lagged overall retail growth.

Total retail sales rose by 3.7% on a 12-month smoothed basis, down from March’s 4% gain, and the smallest increase in nine months. Lower prices on food and other commodities allowed consumers to spend less on nondiscretionary purchases, and continued aggressive promotions and couponing helped the discretionary side of things.

Auto sales continued to drive much of the retail sales growth as record numbers of people replaced older cars, and small business owners snapped up newer, more fuel-efficient trucks and SUVs. Excluding the automotive sector, total retail sales increased by only 2.8%.

Total retail inventory increased by 5.8% in March (the most recent month for which this measure is available), less than both February’s and January’s increases. The total retail inventory-to-sales ratio decreased slightly.

Department and discount stores suffered their thirteenth straight month of declines, with sales down almost 5% in April on a 12-month smoothed basis. Big store inventory rose by 3.6% in March, and the inventory-to-sales ratio edged down.   

Specialty apparel store sales grew 5.4% in April, the segment’s biggest monthly gain in over a year, helped by warmer April weather that spurred sales of Spring apparel. Specialty store inventory rose by only 3% in March, and the inventory-to-sales ratio increased slightly.

The combined department, chain, discount and apparel specialty retail sector, a traditionally reliable barometer of total apparel sales, gained less than 1% on a 12-month smoothed basis.

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