NEW YORK — Shoppers remained tight-fisted in July, raising concern about the back-to-school and holiday shopping seasons, as well as for the broader economic recovery.
The big worry is that frugal parents will focus on outfitting their children this fall with just necessities like notebooks and jeans. And fear is bubbling up that parents might consider any extra splurges early Christmas gifts.
A monthly compilation of more than 50 retailers' results by the International Council of Shopping Centers and Goldman Sachs showed overall same-store sales fell 5 percent in July compared with the year-ago period.
Same-store sales are sales at stores open at least a year and are considered a key indicator of a retailer's health.
Bargain hunting played out again in the retailers' reports, with mall-based apparel stores faring the worst. Among the disappointments were Macy's Inc. and teen retailers Abercrombie & Fitch Co. and Wet Seal Inc.
The few bright spots were apparel discounters like Ross Stores Inc. and TJX Cos., operator of the T.J. Maxx and Marshalls chains, both of which reported sales gains.
July's decline marks the 11th consecutive monthly drop when excluding Wal-Mart results — which had buoyed the industry in the spring before it stopped reporting monthly numbers.
Even among the discounters, shoppers still remain frugal when buying nonessentials, though there may be signs of easing.
Warehouse club operator Costco Wholesale Inc. reported Thursday that its same-store sales dropped 7 percent in July, pressured by lower gas prices and the stronger dollar. The retailer said some of its strongest categories were food, including deli, candy and frozen food.
Target Corp., which has been stumbling because of its reliance on nonessentials like trendy jeans, posted a worse-than-expected 6.5 percent drop.
Among department stores, Macy's reported a deeper-than-expected 10.7 percent drop in same-store sales. But luxury retailer Nordstrom Inc.'s decline wasn't as steep as anticipated, suggesting that the stock market rally may be boosting affluent shoppers' confidence.