November 14, 2008, 12:00 AM

Shoppers “went into hibernation” in October, NRF says

The NRF reports October general merchandise sales fell 1.3% year-over-year. Including autos, gas and restaurants, sales fell 3.3%, says the Commerce Department.


Retail sales data for October were grim, and the forecasts for the rest of year are not much better.

The U.S. Commerce Department reports that retail sales, which include autos, gasoline stations and restaurants, decreased 3.3% in October from October last year. The National Retail Federation, the retailer trade association, reports that excluding those three areas, sales decreased 1.3% year-over-year. Auto sales in October fell 25.9% from October a year ago, the Commerce Department reports.

ShopperTrak, RCT Corp.’s Retail Traffic Index, reports that total U.S. foot traffic in retail stores fell 12.4% from a year ago. ShopperTrak, however, reports sales rose very slightly by 0.7%. “Although retail traffic continued its extreme decline, our National Retail Sales Estimate posted a slight increase as shoppers may have made less frequent trips while spending more for cold weather apparel following the cold snap in parts of the country in late October,” ShopperTrak says. “This minor monthly sales increase follows the 1% retail sales decrease in September, which was the first year-over-year monthly drop since March 2003.”

On a weekly basis, ShopperTrak’s retail sales estimate reported sales for the week ending Nov. 8 fell 2.6% as compared to the same week last year.

The NRF reports that sales were weak across most retail categories:
• Sales at furniture and home furnishing stores decreased 13.2% year-over-year.
• Electronics and appliance store sales were down 5.7%.
• Clothing and accessories store sales fell 3% from a year ago.

The few bright spots were:
• Health and personal care store sales increased 4.2% year-over-year.
• General merchandise store sales, which include discounters, were up 3.5% from October 2007.

“Consumers went into hibernation in October while concerns about the economy were at a peak,” says NRF chief economist Rosalind Wells. “As economic uncertainty went from bad to worse, shoppers pulled back on everything but the basics to weather the storm.“

NRF continues to forecast “meager,” in its words, holiday (November and December) sales growth of 2.2%.


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