Department store sales dip 2% in 15-year streak

Kyodo

Department store sales fell 2.0 percent on a same-store basis compared with the previous year, continuing more than a decade of decline on tepid spending after the March 2011 disasters and shorter hours forced by rolling blackouts, an industry group said.

Sales in 2011 totaled ¥6.15 trillion on an all-store basis, according to data released by the Japan Department Stores Association on Thursday. The dip marked the 15th consecutive sales decline.

Sales revived in the second half, mainly in hard-hit Sendai, as demand picked up with the start of reconstruction and a surge in demand for energy-saving products amid blackouts.

The number of foreign shoppers, which fell sharply after the quake and tsunami, returned to around 90 percent of the predisaster level thanks to Chinese visitors.

“While the outlook remains unclear due to the (debt) crisis in Europe and the proposed sales tax hike, consumption has revived steadily compared with the situation after the (2008) Lehman shock, and has been firm recently,” said Yukiteru Azukizawa, a senior official of the trade group.

Sales fell in most categories, with clothing, which accounts for nearly 35 percent of the total, falling 2.6 percent. Deli sales provided a silver lining, however, climbing 1.0 percent as consumers chose to eat in after the disasters.

In December, sales rose 0.8 percent from a year earlier, marking the first increase in six months, partly due to robust sales of Christmas and yearend gifts.