Back-to-school sales growth slowed in September after a strong August, U.S. retailers reported Thursday.
Sales at stores open at least a year crawled up just 0.8 percent from September 2011, according to the 19 retailers tracked by Thomson Reuters. That was just half the increase analysts expected.
However, excluding drugstores, same-store sales rose 3.6 percent, in line with analyst expectations.
In August, “consumers came out and spent more than they themselves anticipated, and September was really a month for taking stock,” said Joel Bines, managing director at the consulting firm AlixPartners. “The excitement bled out as the month went along – the first week was still strong and then the momentum started to dwindle.”
The 0.8 percent increase was not the smallest increase so far this year – that happened in June, when same-store sales increased just 0.1 percent over a year earlier. But June is normally a weak retail month, while September is more important, since it includes the end of back-to-school sales.
The slowing momentum is not necessarily a harbinger for a bad holiday season, Bines said. He examined the relationship between back-to-school sales versus holiday sales for the last 10 years and said “we haven’t been able to find anything that we would be willing to say is conclusive.”
Large retailers including Target, Kohl’s, Nordstrom and Macy’s missed analyst expectations.
Macy’s September sales rose 2.5 percent, while analysts had expected a 3.3 percent rise. Macy’s noted in a news release that back-to-school sales for August and September combined were up 3.6 percent on a same-store basis.
“We continue to feel good about the remainder of our fall season,” Terry J. Lundgren, chairman and chief executive officer of Macy’s, said in a statement.
Target’s chairman and chief executive said the company was on track for its third-quarter sales and profit goals. The company had a 2.1 percent sales increase in September, just below what analysts were expecting.
At Nordstrom, a 4.4 percent increase came in slightly below what analysts expected. Children’s gear, handbags and men’s shoes performed well, the company said.
Same-store sales at Kohl’s decreased by 2.7 percent; analysts had expected sales to be about flat. Still, Kohl’s reaffirmed its quarterly earnings guidance.
The apparel companies Gap Inc. and Limited Brands, which owns Victoria’s Secret, continued their strong performances, with increases of 6 percent and 5 percent. Gap’s budget-friendly Old Navy brand increased 10 percent, well above analyst expectations.