September Same-Store Sales Sag

Back-to-school spending again helped sustain retail sales growth in September despite shoppers’ weak spending plans as same-store sales excluding Walmart edged slightly lower to 2.8 percent growth, according to Kantar Retail.

The sales-weighted composite for the 31 retailers reporting – most of them apparel retailers – was down slightly from the 3.1 percent same-store sales gain last month. The result was up from the 0.9 percent gain in September 2009 for the same measure calculated without Walmart, which stopped reporting monthly results in April 2009.

“The results suggest that outside of healthy back-to-school spending, shoppers otherwise continue to moderate their spending from a surge in the spring. This moderation should continue into the holidays,” said Frank Badillo, Kantar senior economist.

Kantar Retail has forecast 2.5 percent growth for the holiday fourth quarter. That represents better than 0.9 percent growth a year ago, but down from better than 4 percent growth in the first half of the year for retail sales excluding the auto and fuel channels.

September results were led by stronger-than-average results at department stores. Apparel and accessory stores as a group were close to the average gain. Lagging slightly were food, drug and mass retailers.Click here for a list of the retailers reporting and their results.

The slippage in the results occurred even as recent deterioration in shopper spending intentions showed signs of ebbing in September, according to Kantar Retail's September ShopperScape survey. In September, the percentage of shoppers planning to spend more in the coming month compared with the same period a year ago edged higher for the first time since May 2010 (in terms of a three-month moving average).

The slight improvement among shoppers planning to spend more came at the expense of the percentage of shoppers planning to spend about the same as last year. The percentage of shoppers planning to spend less remained flat from the prior month. Up-market shoppers led the improvement among shoppers planning to spend more in the coming month. The percentage planning to spend more held steady among down-market shoppers and declined slightly among mid-market shoppers.

The spending intentions of shoppers continue to get little boost from households’ negative perception of their financial health in terms of six financial factors. The number of households feeling better off across the six financial factors remained well off the peak reached during the spring months for all three income groups.

Compared with August, the measure fell off for down-market households, held steady for mid-market households and edged higher for up-market households. Weighing on households’ perception of their financial situation were home values, particularly among mid-market and down-market households. Job security was another factor weighing on the household financial situation across all three income groups.

The outlook for the 2010 holiday is mixed, given early spending plans by shoppers. The percentage of shoppers planning to spend more for the holiday (7 percent) is slightly lower than last year at this time, when 9 percent of shoppers planned to spend more. Plans to spend more are strongest among Gen Y shoppers (19 percent).

The good news is that fewer shoppers plan to spend less on holiday gifts. However, the percentage (38 percent) is only slightly less than last year at this time (40 percent). Cutbacks are greatest among baby boomers (42 percent).

The biggest change is among shoppers planning to spend about the same. Nearly half of shoppers (49 percent) plan to spend about the same, compared with 46 percent that responded similarly a year ago at this time. Seniors are most likely to hold their holiday spending steady (55 percent).

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