Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Retailers Report Disappointing Sales

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Retailers Report Disappointing Sales

Article excerpt

The back-to-school season, usually an impetus for consumers to shop, has been something of a bust this year.

August sales figures released by the nation's big retailers on Thursday showed that not even the approach of fall could overcome Americans' financial concerns and send them to stores and malls.

The figures extended uninspired or disappointing sales reports from retailers that began early in 1993. Apparel retailers continued to bear the brunt of the weak environment. Several others, including Federated Department Stores Inc. and J.C. Penney Co., said August sales were below expectations.

Home furnishing retailers fared better. Federated Chairman Allen Questrom said while women's clothing sales were weak, the company's stores, which include Bloomingdale's, Lazarus and Burdine's, had better-than-expected sales of home items.

Shopper traffic in malls and stores was light, said Jeffrey Edelman, a retail industry analyst with C.J. Lawrence Inc. Although the back-to-school season began in August, "there's been an ongoing trend (for consumers) to buy things more at the time of need," he said.

The economy, which has stifled retail sales growth for much of the past few years, was again the culprit.

Rick Nelson of Duff Phelps Inc. in Chicago said consumers were held back by the same worries that have kept them out of stores all year: the weak job market, higher taxes, health care reform. Economists also have noted that consumers continue to have less money for discretionary items.

When money is tight, consumers tend to postpone purchases of clothes and other nonessentials. Edelman said many parents who in the past would have filled their children's closets in August are delaying apparel purchases until the weather turns cooler.

The sales results announced Thursday don't bode well for a substantial pickup in the economy, which depends on consumer spending. They also provide little encouragement the upcoming Christmas shopping season _ when retailers hope to earn half their annual sales and profits _ will be robust.

"Christmas is going to be a function of consumer confidence in the economy at that time," Edelman said. …

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