Apparel Retail Shopping Inched Up in January

Online shopping remained the biggest growth driver.

After a strong holiday season, apparel retail maintained some shopping momentum during January, with online sales still leading the way.

Sales at specialty apparel and accessories stores grew 3.1 percent last month to $22.17 billion, while sales at department stores grew by a slight 1 percent to $12.72 billion, compared to the same period last year, according to new data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Both of those sectors were overshadowed by the performance of nonstore, or online, retailers, where sales rose 13.2 percent during January to $54.97 billion.

During December, online retailers saw sales increase 12.6 percent to $55.56 billion, while specialty retail grew 5.6 percent to $473.83 billion and department stores grew 2.4 percent to $22.06 billion.

The National Retail Federation said January was “nearly as good” for retail as during the holiday season.

“These numbers reinforce a positive start to 2018 that reflects ongoing consumer optimism brought about by solid economic fundamentals,” Jack Kleinhenz, an NRF economist, said. “Consumer spending continues to grow at a steady pace and is showing year-over-year increases across almost all retail sectors.”

After citing increased employment, which has been trending upward for several years, and “wage growth,” which is far from certain for many workers, Kleinhenz said the drastic decline in stocks “are a concern for some shoppers,” but brushed it off as impacting retail overall.

“Households have the wherewithal to spend and the tax cuts consumers are now seeing in their paychecks will bring an added boost,” he said. “Some observers are spinning this as a disappointing month but you’ve got to keep in mind that we’re coming off one of the strongest holiday seasons in years.”

Things were less improved in retail overall, with sales including sectors like food and auto actually falling slightly by 0.3 percent to $492 billion. The bureau’s revised figures for December also found that the industry’s growth was flat, while growth for the whole year was up 5 percent.

The NRF is still projecting that retail sales will rise between 3.8 percent and 4.4 percent during 2018. Again, online sales are expected to lead, with a projected sales increase of 10 percent to 12 percent.

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