Today’s news from the National Retail Federation will come as no surprise to retailers. The news is that September sales were down.
Excluding automobiles, gas stations and restaurants, sales decreased .7 percent seasonally adjusted from August, while increasing 1.4 percent unadjusted year-over-year.
Retail sales (including non-general merchandise categories such as autos, gasoline stations and restaurants) were flat unadjusted over last year and down 1.2 percent seasonally adjusted from August.
Specifically, sales at furniture and home furnishing stores decreased 2.3 percent seasonally adjusted from the previous month and dropped 9.2 percent year-over-year unadjusted. Electronics and appliance stores declined 1.5 percent month-to-month seasonally adjusted while decreasing 2.1 percent unadjusted from September 2007.
Apparel retailers saw declines of 2.3 percent seasonally adjusted from August and dipped 2.0 percent unadjusted year-over-year.
Sales at health and personal care stores remained solid, increasing .4 percent seasonally adjusted from last month and 6.3 percent unadjusted year-over-year. Grocery stores also posted strong gains, increasing 3.8 percent unadjusted from September 2007, while decreasing .4 percent from August.
But, like I said, this is not news to retailers. What to do about it, though, could be newsworthy — or at least helpful. Bob Phibbs, who calls himself The Retail Doctor, suggests the following:
1. You can’t use the economy as the reason you aren’t doing better. It would be like a quarterback missing a pass and telling the coach, “It’s the weather’s fault.”
2. Nothing has changed in the past 24 months about how you have to do your business. Even if sales were down 15 percent in September, that still is a lot of people shopping. Are you getting your share?
3. If you still feel you can compete having slacker employees, I’ve got news for you. You can’t.
4. Anytime a customer wants to talk to you they should. No more answer machines — forward all calls to your cell phone.
5. If you think you can just stock the same stuff as anyone else or throw a 15-percent off sale every weekend — it won’t work.
Only if your eyes are on your customers, Phibbs says, are you going to be able to survive and thrive.