NEW YORK - The outlook for the holiday season brightened Thursday as many of the nation’s retailers reported an improvement in sales in October.
Discounters, however, had another month of lackluster results as their customers cut back their spending again.
Many mall-based apparel stores, including Limited Brands, Abercrombie & Fitch and Gap, saw a rebound in spending, helped by cooler weather. Wal-Mart Stores, Big Lots and ShopKo Stores were among the merchants who extended a sluggish streak that began in June.
‘‘There was definitely more broad-based growth across the apparel group. But the low-end consumer continues to be hurt on two fronts — jobs and wage growth and higher energy prices,’’ said Ken Perkins, an analyst at RetailMetrics LLC, a research firm in Cambridge, Mass.
‘‘This is a little more encouraging as we head into the holiday season, though it is not a harbinger for a stellar shopping season.’’
John Morris, senior retail analyst at Harris Nesbitt, noted that ‘‘there was pent-up demand for apparel coming at a time when weather was more seasonable.’’
But he warned that the question remains whether that buying can be sustained during the holiday season.
‘‘The average consumer seems to be pinched,’’ he said.
Even in more secure economic times, it’s hard to tell from October sales how the holiday season will fare — whether consumers will shop enthusiastically from the start or put off buying until late December and force retailers to slash their prices.
With the current uncertainty about jobs and energy bills, many storeowners are uneasy about the holidays, especially after the Conference Board reported last week that consumer confidence fell to a seven-month low in October, marking its third consecutive monthly decline.