US shoppers return to stores

US shoppers are spending again, as a surge of boutiques, high street retailers and upmarket department stores report an increase in January sales. According to the Financial Times, Retail Metrics said its index of chain retailers’ same-store sales figures rose 3.3 per cent, higher than the 2.4 per cent forecast, the fifth successive month of positive year-on-year sales growth shown by the index.

Retailers including Gap, Kohl’s and Macy’s, saw their shares rise as they raised expectations for their fourth-quarter earnings. The monthly sales numbers offered further indications of returning demand for prestige and luxury goods, with Saks and Neiman Marcus, the luxury fashion department stores, reporting increases of 6.8 per cent and 7 per cent, respectively.

Nordstrom, the upmarket department store, saw its comparable sales jump 14 per cent. Macy’s, the largest traditional department store chain, highlighted a strong performance from its luxury Bloomingdales stores, as it reported a 3.4 per cent increase in same-store sales for the month and raised its earnings guidance.

The performance of the prestige stores fits with recent comments from Polo Ralph Lauren, the clothing brand company, and from Estée Lauder, the cosmetics maker, which have both reported stronger demand for their higher-priced products.

The more mainstream retailers also enjoyed sales that were stronger than had been expected. Comparable sales at Kohl’s, the discount department store, rose 6.5 per cent, although Kevin Mansell, chief executive, said customers “remain conservative in their discretionary spending”. Kohl’s rival JC Penney reported a 4.6 per cent decline in comparable sales, but said this was better than the forecast decline of 5 to 8 per cent.

Speciality clothing retailers also fared significantly better than last year, with Aéropostale’s same-store sales up 6 per cent, American Eagle up 10 per cent and Abercrombie & Fitch up 8 per cent.

The Limited, which owns the Victoria’s Secret lingerie stores, reported a 6 per cent increase in same-store sales while Gap, the largest US speciality clothing seller, reported a 5 per cent gain, led by a 10 per cent increase at its low-cost Old Navy chain in the US and positive sales at its Gap and Banana Republic brands.

Comparable sales at Target, the discounter, rose 0.5 per cent, lower than Wall Street had expected. Walmart, the largest US retailer, no longer reports its same-store sales on a monthly basis.

January is traditionally a month of transition for retailers, as they dispose of excess holiday inventory and prepare to bring in the spring ranges.

Image: Shopper

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