Back-to-School Shopping Propels Retail Sales

Although back-to-school shopping helped lift retail sales slightly in August, continued sluggish growth suggests consumers’ broader economic worries remain high, according to the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA).

Monthly retail sales figures for June released today by the Department of Commerce reported subtle growth over July 2009, said RILA in a statement issued Tuesday (September 14). Retail sales excluding auto sales were up compared to sales from the previous month. 

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Overall retail sales increased 0.4 percent in August, and rose 3.6 percent over sales in August 2009.  Retail sales excluding auto and auto part sales jumped 0.6 percent in August, and showed gains of 4.8 percent over the previous year.

“If there was a silver lining in August it was that consumers flocked to back-to-school promotions in far greater numbers than they did a year ago,” said RILA president Sandy Kennedy. 

Sales tax holidays and back-to-school promotions helped overcome the many other factors behind the disappointing pace of our economic recovery. 

“With such sluggish economic growth, optimists must look to gains over the long-term to find cause to celebrate, while pessimists find easy justification for their dour mood in month-to-month data.”

Back-to-school shoppers propelled clothing retail sales up 1.2 percent over the previous month and 3.9 percent over August 2009. Department stores saw smaller gains, increasing 0.4 percent over July sales.

Grocery stores saw the highest gains in August, increasing 1.4 percent over the previous month.  Sporting goods, hobby and book stores saw modest gains as well, with sales climbing 0.9 percent.

Unemployment remains the single largest drag on the economy. Recent Department of Labor statistics noted that 6.2 million American workers have been out of work for more than six months. 

RILA is the trade association of the world’s leading retail companies. It says its members include more than 200 retailers, product manufacturers, and service suppliers, which together account for more than $1.5 trillion in annual sales, millions of American jobs and more than 100,000 stores, manufacturing facilities and distribution centers domestically and abroad.

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Rakesh Raman