The back-to-school season brought consumers into stores and malls during August, but while shoppers were in the mood to spend, they were very choosy about what they bought and where.
Sales results released Thursday were mixed. Some retailers that have struggled recently, such as J.C. Penney Co. Inc., recovered last month, while some other stores, including Gap Inc., saw their sales momentum stop.
Industry analysts said the overall tone of business remains good, particularly since women’s apparel sales, despite some weak spots, continue to show signs of recovering from a years-long slump. That’s a heartening sign for the retail industry, which is already looking ahead to the holiday season with hopes that the disaster of Christmas 1995 won’t be repeated.
In August, “basically, the big stores benefited from apparel,” which is selling well because of more attractive styles, colors and fabrics, said Jeffrey Feiner, an analyst with Salomon Brothers Inc.
Joseph Ronning, an analyst with Brown Brothers Harriman Inc., said the disparity among the results - retailers’ performance varied even within a particular segment, such as apparel or discount stores - was due in part to consumers’ fickleness.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the nation’s largest retailer, said its sales from stores open at least a year rose 3.9 percent while total sales were up 11.4 percent.
Sears, Roebuck and Co. said its same-store sales rose 4.4 percent, while total sales rose 7.1 percent.
Kmart Corp. said its same-store sales rose 1 percent, while total business fell 2.5 percent.
Dayton Hudson Corp. said same-store sales were up 1.9 percent, and total sales rose 9.2 percent.