Chain stores see 6 percent rise in back-to-school sales for August

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The kids may not be thrilled about school starting up again, but retailers seem pretty happy about August sales results driven by the need to get students ready for a new academic year.

U.S. chain-store sales in established stores rose 6 percent, excluding drug stores, for the month as compared to last year, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers. The tally of 18 national chains does not include Wal-Mart, which no longer releases monthly sales data.

"Back-to-school spending was especially strong in August," said Michael P. Niemira, vice president of research and chief economist for the New York trade group, in his analysis. Sales did get a boost from numerous state sales tax holidays around the country, as well as lots of retailer sales and coupons.

A wave of cool weather might also have helped get shoppers in the mood, according to Ken Perkins, president of Retail Metrics Inc. in Swampscott, Mass. It didn't hurt, in his opinion, that teens are embracing the colored and skinny jeans that they didn't already have in their wardrobes.

PG graphic: Retail sales
(Click image for larger version)

"Despite the headwinds of rising gas and food prices coupled with high unemployment, consumers shifted away from basics and snapped up a colorful assortment of apparel, skinny denim and printed tops," Mr. Perkins wrote in his assessment.

Although there's still time left in the back-to-school shopping season, the strong start is good news for retailers who have been anxiously watching as consumer confidence numbers go up and down.

Discount retailer Target reported same-store sales -- meaning sales in stores that have been open at least a year -- rose 4.2 percent for the four weeks ended Aug. 25. "Sales were stronger in the second half of the month, as guests responded to Target's broad assortment and compelling value for their back-to-school and back-to-college shopping."

Department store retailer Macy's reported a 5.1 percent same-store sales gain for the month, with the company reporting strength across the country and in many categories. "I am particularly pleased with our back-to-school results in the millennial customer categories and our improved performance in feminine apparel," said Terry J. Lundgren, chairman, president and CEO in a prepared statement.

In July, the National Retail Federation had projected that total spending on children going into grades K-12 would hit $30.3 billion, while that spending combined with college goods would hit $83.8 billion, making the season second only to the winter holidays.

Looking ahead, the shopping centers council is projecting that sales will moderate a bit from August's levels. The group expects sales at established stores to rise between 3 to 4 percent.

businessnews

Teresa F. Lindeman: tlindeman@post-gazette.com or at 412-263-2018.


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