October sales lift merchants
Increase bodes well for holidays
NEW YORK - October’s retail sales results, the best performance since April 2008, show that Americans are spending a little more. But will they be willing to pay full price this holiday season?
Stores are heading into the period with slashed inventories, determined not to have the fire sales that characterized last Christmas. But shoppers still face tight credit and a weak job market and might wait for fat discounts or not buy at all. That game of chicken will determine the holiday winners and losers.
“Shoppers are still being cautious, but we are seeing some signs of recovery in the economy,’’ said Carl Steidtmann, an economist at Deloitte Research, who forecasts holiday sales will be unchanged from a year ago.
Sales at stores open at least a year rose 2.1 percent last month, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers-Goldman Sachs tally, compared with a 4.2 percent drop in October 2008. October results beat estimates for a 1 percent gain.
Sales at stores open at least a year are considered a key indicator of a retailer’s health.
For the holidays, more consumers will pay full price and shop earlier than a year ago because they are afraid the merchandise they want will not be there later, Steidtmann says. But he also noted that while reduced stock will help boost store profits, it will probably limit sales as merchants run out of products.
Others like Ken Perkins, president of retail research firm Retail Metrics, says it’s going to be hard to get shoppers to pay full price.
“Consumers are still extremely price sensitive,’’ he said.
Merchants announced their second consecutive monthly sales gain after more than a year of declines. Improving figures all pointed to sales momentum, encouraging as the industry heads into the holiday season.
Affluent shoppers spent more on designer duds, delivering gains for Saks and Nordstrom.
Discount retailer BJ’s Wholesale Club Inc., based in Natick, Mass., said sales at stores open at least a year fell 1.1 percent in October, citing declining gas sales.
Framingham-based TJX Cos. said same-store sales rose 10 percent on strong demand at T.J. Maxx and Marshalls stores.