The National Retail Federation reported September retail sales, excluding non-merchandise categories such as autos and restaurants, increased 0.4 percent seasonally adjusted over August and 4.3 percent unadjusted year-over-year.
Top category performers, showing month-to-month increases, included electronics and appliances (1.5 percent), material and garden equipment (0.6 percent), furniture and home furnishing (0.5 percent) and health and personal care (0.5 percent).
"There's no question that the industry is in a much better state than this time last year, however consumers are still very reliant on sales and promotions," says Matthew Shay, NRF's president and chief executive officer. "It is encouraging to see increases in key discretionary spending categories, marking a significant change in what retailers experienced throughout the economic downturn."
Meanwhile, NPD Group reports shoppers are making choices more carefully, according to its annual holiday study of consumers' spending intentions. The survey reports:
62 percent say they plan to do some kind of "homework" prior to making a purchase
44 percent say they will comparison shop before they buy a gift
37 percent say they will use ads or circulars to guide their gift shopping
33 percent say they will compare prices online before they shop in a store
"Last year I called it a 'hesitation holiday' and this year I think we will see a 'hamstrung holiday,'" says Marshal Cohen, NPD's chief industry analyst, "by that I mean we will see retailers and brands wrestling with both their inability to figure out what will excite consumers, as well as with the fact that they have to live with the conservative holiday planning they did earlier this year."