As Black Friday approaches, the National Retail Federation reported that retail industry sales were flat in October compared to the previous month. This report, which excludes automobiles, gas stations, and restaurants, represents a 1.3 percent drop compared to last year.
The NRF found mixed signals in the data, which it draws from the U.S. Commerce Department’s monthly sales report. The Commerce Department reported slight gains in a number of business categories. General merchandise stores were up 0.8 percent, while department stores specifically saw a 0.3 percent gain. Food and beverage stores were up 0.1 percent, and grocery stores in particular rose 0.2 percent. Health and personal care stores were up 0.5 percent.
As with the previous two months, building material and garden equipment dealers were one of the few categories to see a drop compared with the month before (declining 2.4 percent). Furniture and home furnishings stores were down 0.8 percent, while electronics and appliance stores dropped 0.6 percent, indicating that consumers are avoiding big home and garden purchases as the holiday season approaches.
“Though the October numbers show some signs of optimism for retailers, the industry is still not out of the woods,” said Rosalind Wells, the NRF’s chief economist, in a statement. “While categories like apparel, sporting goods, books, music and personal care fared well, housing-related categories such as furniture and home improvement continued to struggle.”
Industry experts forecast that flat sales are likely to continue through the holiday season. Consulting firm BDO Seidman released a survey this morning (November 16) that projects a slight, 1.8 percent growth in Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales this year.
Drawing on the responses of 100 chief marketing officers at leading retailers, the data reflected similar consumer behaviors exhibited in the U.S. Commerce Department report. “When you look at the non-auto numbers that came out for October, that’s what we expect to continue to see,” said Ted Vaughan, partner for BDO Seidman’s retail and consumer product practice. “Overall for the holiday season we’re expecting it to be flat.”