The U.S. retail industry is in better shape than it has been for at least the last eight months, industry leaders say.
The Retail Sector Performance Index, which compiles industry executives’ evaluations of sales and customer traffic, inched closer to “normal” in April than any month since September when the index was introduced.
April’s measurement topped off at 47.7 percent, up from 42 percent in March. A 50 percent score is considered “normal,” according to the National Retail Federation and the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi, which co-developed the index.
The demand outlook — the industry leaders prediction for the next six months — is 50 in April, up from 43.8 percent in March.
“Fifty percent in this case is great,” said Ellen Tolley, spokeswoman for the National Retail Federation. “What that tells us is retailers think there will be a steady return to stores and increased spending.”
The winding down of the war in Iraq helped, Tolley said.
“Once the war is out of the way, it makes room for the economy to improve,” Tolley said. “But war was only one piece of the puzzle.”
The economy is still sagging, so don’t expect giant spending splurges, she said.
Upcoming holidays, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, will help get shoppers into malls, she said. Mother’s Day is the second biggest gift-giving holiday for retailers and should be a boon for specialty retailers, she said.
It’s too soon for national retail sales figures for April to be released, but customer traffic at Arizona Mills mall in Tempe definitely improved in April, said Denise Hart, marketing director.
“The beginning of the year was great, but then March came, and the war came, and higher gas prices hit us,” Hart said. “But April is picking up. We can tell from the mall traffic and from what our retailers are telling us.”
Hart agreed that boosts in business likely will happen gradually.
“The economy is still not in that great shape,” she said. “People are still watching spending, especially on big-ticket items like jewelry.”