February 24, 2009, 12:00 AM

One poll shows an uptick in store sales, while a second shows a decline

A study of 40 retail chains by the International Council of Shopping Centers shows retail store sales last week were up 0.6% compared to the week before. But ShopperTrak says store and mall sales fell 4.5% from the previous week.

Two surveys of retail stores sales released today agree that sales were down last week compared to a year ago. But one survey says sales for the week ended Feb. 21 were up from the prior week, while the other survey says sales were down week over week. The two surveys cover somewhat different categories of stores.

The cheerier report of the two came from the International Council of Shopping Centers and investment bank Goldman Sachs, which says sales were up 0.6% for the week ended Feb. 21 over the prior week, the fourth week in a row in which sales did not fall week over week. “Although retail-sector conditions continue to be weak, the message appears to be that consumer spending is just not as weak as in recent months,” says Michael P. Niemira, ICSC chief economist.

However, the council says sales for the week were 0.8% lower than the same week a year ago. “For February, ICSC Research continues to expect same-store sales will be down by one to two percent from the same month of the prior year,” Niemira says. The ICSC bases its estimates on comparable-store sales from about 40 retail chains.

Meanwhile, ShopperTrak estimated that retail sales were down 4.5% in the week that ended Saturday over the week before, and 0.5% compared to a year ago. ShopperTrak estimates are based on measurements of the movement of consumers through shopping malls and major retail outlets, and does not include stores in the following categories: autos and auto repair, food service and drinking places, building materials and garden centers, health and personal care stores, and food and beverage stores.

“Last week we anticipated lower sales levels as annually the period following Valentine’s Day and leading into Easter is slow for retailers,” says Bill Martin, co-founder of ShopperTrak. “This yearly trend added to poor economic conditions led to the seventh consecutive year-over-year sales decline, a pattern that will most likely continue until Easter.”

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