Justine Griffin / Herald Tribune – Chain store sales in June were the highest they have been in years, as pent-up demand from a blustery winter drove shoppers into stores, a report by the International Council of Shopping Centers shows.
Retail sales were up 4.6 percent compared with June 2013, the strongest pace analysts have seen since December 2011.
“Business was up sharply for most segments, especially at department stores, apparel stores, discounters and wholesale clubs,” said Michael Niemira, an ICSC research consultant. “Gasoline prices — which impact consumer discretionary purchasing power — stayed flat, providing consumers the ability to spend their money elsewhere.”
Researchers expect sales will continue to post solid gains, and predict an increase of 3.5 percent for the year compared with 2013.
Retailers in Southwest Florida also have felt an uptick.
“We are seeing sales increasing consistently with the rest of the industry,” said Dan Doyle, with Bradenton-based Bealls Inc.
“It’s very encouraging to us and we’re hopeful for a good summer and strong back-to-school season.”
Florida’s school tax holiday, in which back-to-school items such as backpacks and pencils are sold tax-free, is Aug. 1-3. Items that are exempt from sales tax during this period also include clothes, shoes, school supplies and even some electronics.
“June is not a great month in terms of sales for retailers, usually,” said Jeff Green, an analyst with Phoenix-based Jeff Green Partners. “While the numbers are impressive, we shouldn’t expect for that to hold for a long period of time. Sales will continue to grow, but at a very minimal pace.”
For the back-to-school sale season this year, which is the second-largest retail holiday outside of Christmas, Green predicts a modest 2 percent growth compared with 2013.
But it is too early to tell if strong sales in June will bode well for the back-to-school season.
“It’s too finite of a period to really gauge,” Green said. “But the fundamentals of the economy are no better now than they were last year. There is a lot of concern about inflation. We’re already seeing that at the grocery store.”
Total back-to-school spending reached a relatively poor $26.7 billion in 2013.
At J.C. Penney, sales have continued to grow as the company continues to work on a turnaround this year, said Bob Parker, the general manager of the chain’s store at Sarasota Square Mall. This time last year, the ailing department store chain saw sales and revenue plummet for six straight quarters.
The chain has a new CEO and has been trying to rebrand itself, which Parker said is paying off.
“It’s hard to judge us against any other retailer because of the changes we’ve seen,” Parker said.
“But we’re growing in sales, thanks to advertisements this year compared to last year, when we didn’t advertise at all. June has been good. The first and second quarters have been strong.”