January retail sales figures are often dragged down by the post-holiday shopping "hangover." Consumers are shopped out after the holidays, and, even though they offer deep discounts, stores often struggle to lure them back.
It looks like this past January was no exception. According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, overall retail sales growth in January was just 0.4 percent, about half what was expected. Car sales really dragged the number down, but if you take those out, the number gains a respectful 0.7 percent.
We talked to Madison Riley, a retail strategist at Kurt Salmon. He says retailers had a surprisingly good January, especially when you consider headwinds such as unemployment and stagnant wages are still factors. Riley says January's numbers continued "a trend in the latter half of 2011 of more consistent, steadier improvements in retail sales."
Riley says part of what's getting people out to the mall is "frugality fatigue" -- after more than three years of belt-tightening, the U.S. consumer is ready to spend some money.
While Riley is very optimistic about the health of U.S. retailers overall, he says competition remains fierce. Retailers have to stay focused on innovation to keep the choosey, reluctant U.S. consumer shopping.