Big stores were dealt another blow in January as sales at department, chain and discount stores suffered a year-over-year decline of almost 3 percent, according to the latest U.S. Department of Commerce data.
Total adjusted retail sales rose by 3.4% compared to last January, to $449 billion, helped by above-average sales at automobile dealerships, home and building materials stores, e-commerce retailers and restaurants. On a 12-month smoothed basis, total retail sales rose by 2.84%, at or near recent levels.
The further decline in gasoline prices and firming job market continued to help automobile retailers, whose sales rose by more than 7 percent on 12-month smoothed basis, their biggest increase in four months. Taking cars out of the mix, retail sales increased by only 1.2%.
After unseasonably warm weather in much of the country melted sales at apparel-oriented retailers in the final two months of 2015, the return of colder-than-average temperatures in the Northeast and the aggressive promoting of cold-weather goods did little to drive store traffic in January. According to big data firm RetailNext, traffic at physical stores dropped by 4.6% in the month, with sales per shopper down slightly after two consecutive months of increases.
The sector comprised of department, chain and discount stores saw sales drop by 3.6% on a year-over-year basis in December, its biggest decline in nine months on a 12-month smoothed basis. Department stores continue to lose share to the off-price and specialty channels in apparel. Macy’s, Walmart, Kohl’s and other major retailers have reported slower than expected sales growth in the quarter ending Jan. 31.
Apparel specialty stores sales rose by 2.2% in January, to $21.3 billion. On a 12-month smoothed basis, sales were up by less than 1 percent.
For the combined department and specialty sector, a barometer of overall apparel, sales were virtually flat on a year-over-year basis in December. On a 12-month smoothed basis, the decline was almost 1 percent.