The nation's largest general retailers announced their August sales results Thursday, and the numbers reflect a hard fact of life: Changes in the calendar can affect consumers' buying habits and give store owners a lackluster month.
"Generally speaking, these sales are soft," said Jeffrey Edelman, a retail industry analyst with Drexel Burnham Lambert Inc.
He attributed the poor performance to delayed back-to-school shopping, although he said most stores' results were within expectations.
Retailers depend on back-to-school buying for the bulk of their August sales, but with Labor Day late this year--falling on Sept. 7 as opposed to Sept. 1 last year--many parents have put off purchases.
Fred Wintzer, who tracks specialty stores for Alex. Brown & Sons Inc., said smaller retailers who rely heavily on back-to-school sales had a "below-trend" month, but "a lot of the back-to-school business that happened in August last year will happen in September" this year.
Los Angeles-based Carter Hawley Hale Stores, which operates the Broadway Southern California and four other department store divisions, reported that sales for the four weeks ended Aug. 29 totaled $186.9 million, a 4.8% increase from the year-ago period; sales for the 30-week period were $1.4 billion, an increase of 5.7% over the same period in 1986. Carter Hawley recently split into two companies, spinning off its specialty stores into a new company--Neiman-Marcus Group--which did not report.
MAJOR RETAILERS' SALES IN AUGUST
In millions Year % of dollars 1987 ago change Sears 2,302 2,274 + 1.2 K mart 1,847 1,727 + 6.9 J.C. Penney 1,089 1,053 + 3.4 May Dept. Stores 777.6 726.1 + 7.0 Federated* 550.9 523.8 + 5.2 Dayton Hudson 804.8 704.8 + 14.2 Wal-Mart Stores 1,363 1,028 + 33.0 Woolworth** 361.0 335.0 + 7.7 Montgomery Ward 345.2 341.7 + 1.0 Carter Hawley Hale 186.9 178.4 + 4.8
* Excludes supermarket sales.
** Excludes foreign sales.