Retailers post strong August same-store sales, thanks to back-to-school

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Retailers saw a strong gain in August sales, boosted by discount-hungry shoppers eager to buy new clothes for back to school.

Sales at 20 large U.S. retail chains rose 6 percent at stores opened at least a year, according to research firm Retail Metrics. It was the biggest gain since Sept. 2011, said the firm’s founder, Ken Perkins.

“The retailers have to be very pleased with how the month panned out and how strong sales were,” Perkins said.

But don’t take the strong sales as a sign that the economy is improving, Perkins said. He said it’s really more of a reflection of shoppers that were stuck with buying basic clothes during the recession and are now looking to wear something new and more colorful in school.

Shoppers were enticed with discounts of 25-45 percent on back-to-school items, Perkins said. Meanwhile, tops and bottoms were in the $10-$30 price range, making it easier to justify buying a pair of skinny jeans.

“Retailers have done a good job (with giving) affordable levels for consumers,” Perkins said.

Retailers that beat analyst estimates include Gap, Macy’s and high-end department store Nordstrom.

Macy’s posted a 5.1 percent increase in sales at stores opened at least a year, a key metric known as same-store sales. It beat analyst estimates of a 3.3 percent increase, according to Retail Metrics. Meanwhile, Gap posted an increase of 9 percent in sales at stores opened at least a year, up from analysts’ estimates of a 5.5 percent gain.

“Our fall season is off to a healthy start,” said Macy’s CEO Terry Lundgren.

Nordstrom had the largest gain with a 21 percent increase in sales at stores opened at least a year. Analysts had predicted an 11.2 percent increase. Perkins said the boost could be attributed to the retailer’s anniversary sale extending into August this year.

The retailer with the weakest sales at stores opened at least a year was woman’s apparel store Wet Seal, which has been undergoing some management changes, Perkins said. Wet Seal posted a same-store sales decline of 18.3 percent, compared to a 5.5 percent gain last year.

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