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School reopenings lighten up US retailers’ sentiments

Nearly all of the big retailers hit their strides in August

Image Credit: Bloomberg
An American Eagle Outfitters store in San Francisco. Back-to-school is the second-biggest selling season for retailers in the US after the winter holidays. But retailers continue to deal with a somewhat difficult climate.
Gulf News

New York: Nearly all US retailers posted better-than-expected sales gains in August at stores open at least a year as parents and students wrapped up back-to-school purchases, setting the stage for a strong third quarter. August same-store sales rose 3.6 per cent at retailers tracked by Thomson Reuters, trumping forecasts for a two per cent rise.

“Back to school generates so much sales in the first month of the retailers’ third quarter, it has to have a big impact,” said Mark Larson, head of retail at KPMG.

Back-to-school is the second-biggest selling season for retailers in the US after the winter holidays. However, a strong back to school showing still does not guarantee a strong holiday season, Larson said.

“There is still too much uncertainty around consumer spending to make a declaration that [the] holiday season would be good,” he said, adding that factors like unemployment, droughts, higher gas prices due to hurricane Isaac, can put a crimp on consumer spending.

Retailers are still dealing with a somewhat difficult climate. Earlier this week the US Commerce Department said consumer spending in the second quarter was revised up a notch but was still below the first quarter’s pace. Consumer spending accounts for about 70 per cent of US economic activity.

Shopping is being driven by events, such as the start of the school season or various holidays, said Michael Niemira, chief economist of the International Council of Shopping Centres. “I don’t think we would sustain this type of pace or anything near it. I would suspect you would see a lot of slowing,” he said.

The ICSC sees September same-store sales rising three to four per cent, excluding drugstores. IBM’s chief retail expert Jill Puleri said with the event driven shopping as kids leave for school and college, IBM expects sales of home and women’s categories to go up over eight per cent during the quarter.

Sales trump expectations

The August sales trend will give retailers confidence about the consumer mindset going into the holidays, said Joel Bines, managing director of AlixPartners’ retail practice. “They will be cautious and have planned promotions but can have more confidence about not needing unplanned promotions,” he said.

Gap’s 9 per cent rise in same-store sales topped analysts’ forecast for a 5.4 per cent increase. The results were driven by strong back-to-school sales, particularly at its Old Navy chain, where North American same-store sales jumped 12 per cent.

Same-store sales are an important measure of retailer performance because they strip out the effects of store openings and closings.

At Target Corp, sales were stronger in the second half of the month as shoppers responded to “compelling value for their back-to-school and back-to-college shopping,” said chairman and chief executive Gregg Steinhafel. Same-store sales were strongest in food, followed by health and beauty products.