NEW YORK (AP) — Americans spent briskly in October before Superstorm Sandy hit the Northeast, but the question is whether they're still willing to get an iPhone for Christmas if they plunked down hundreds on a generator for Sandy?
The storm, which hit at the East Coast at the tail-end of October, did not appear to negatively impact sales during the month: Twenty-one retailers from club operator Costco to department store Macy's reported that sales during the month were up 5 percent from the previous month, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers, beating the trade group's estimate growth of 3.5 percent to 4.5 percent.
Still, analysts worry that the strong sales in October could spell trouble for the upcoming holiday shopping season in November and December, a time when many retailers make up to 40 percent of their annual revenue. They fear that many Americans who bought generators, bottled water and other emergency and cleanup supplies before and after the storm will be less inclined to spend over the holidays.
Michael P. Niemira, chief economist at the international shopping center trade group, said the sales reports give reason to be optimistic, however, there still are "considerable uncertainties."
"We'll see any negative impact from Sandy in coming weeks," he said.
At a time when retailers are dealing with a slow economic recovery and uncertainties related to who the next president will be, Superstorm Sandy is just added to the list of challenges they face. Few retailers offered details Thursday on how their sales were affected by Superstorm Sandy, which hit landfall on Oct. 27 and disrupted business activity from North Carolina to Maine with many retailers closing stores due to power outages, flooding and other issues related to the storm.
So far, the effects of the storm are expected to be a wash. Home improvement chains, drugstores and food stores were expected to benefit as shoppers stocked up before and after the storm, while sales at department stores, clothing retailers and others that sell discretionary items were likely hurt by Sandy. But with stores just starting to reopen, analysts expect the full effects of the storm to spill over into the first week of November.
Adding to that, it is not known how the storm affected many stores. Only a handful of retailers representing about 13 percent of the $2.4 trillion U.S. retail industry report monthly revenue results, which are based on the key figure of revenue at stores opened at least a year. And the list excludes home improvement chains like Home Depot, the world's biggest retailer Wal-Mart Stores Inc., and others that might have been impacted by the storm.
Home Depot, based in Atlanta, would not discuss sales figures on Thursday, but said its stores have been busy, as one would expect. About 44 of Home Depot's 2,200 stores were closed on Monday when the storm approached, but by the next morning most had reopened. By Thursday, only two locations in New York City remained closed.
"From a few days before the storm until now we're moving in trucks all the time with products to make sure that stores stay replenished," said spokeswoman Paula Drake.
Officials at Macy's, a New York-based chain that generates 8 percent of its annual revenue from its New York City stores, said Thursday that they're hopeful that the retailer will recoup some or most of its lost sales from the storm during the remainder of the fourth quarter. More than 200 Macy's and Bloomingdale's stores were closed for some period of time, ranging from a few days to multiple days as a result of the storm.
The retailer said sales increased 4.1 percent in October, up from the 2.9 percent increase analysts had expected. And Macy's raised its guidance for revenue at stores opened at least a year for the second half to 4.0 percent, up from the original estimate of 3.7 percent.
"Business was strong in October," said Terry J. Lundgren, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Macy's in a statement. "We are feeling confident about our prospects for the upcoming holiday season … despite the interruption caused by Hurricane Sandy in the first few days of the fourth quarter."