Consumers may be flocking to fall's brightly colored merchandise, but the only color retailers are seeing is green.
Thanks to strong back-to-school shopping, August retail sales beat expectations with a 5.4% gain over last year, according to data from Retail Metrics Thursday.
It's the first time since Easter that retailing has seen a catalyst for higher spending, says Ken Perkins, president of Retail Metrics.
"What's really pushing out the August sales number is back to school and definitely the weather has been cooperative this month," he says.
Nordstrom well exceeded estimates with a 21% gain, benefiting from moving its much-anticipated anniversary sale a week later, Perkins says. Several retailers saw strong sales including TJ Maxx and Ross both with an 8% increase.
Limited Brands, which owns Victoria's Secret, also saw a better-than-expected rise of 8% and a continuation of the momentum it's been experiencing for months, says Jennifer Black, an analyst who follows the company. The company has seen a gain of 6% or higher every month for a year, according to data from Financo.
"Victoria's Secret has become a marketing machine," says Black, adding that Limited Brands' August number was pushed up due to sales from Victoria's Secret line Pink, which caters to teens and college-age women.
Shoppers have also been more fashion-focused this summer, purchasing bolder, more fun items, and more of them, rather than sticking to replenishing basics like last year, Perkins says.
VIDEO: USA TODAY consumer columnist Jayne O'Donnell offers tips on how to get the best back-to-school deals.
"Consumers, particularly girls, are buying more fashion-oriented, print-oriented," he says. "Skinny denim has been extremely popular - color is really driving it."
Historically, a positive back-to-school shopping season means an equally robust holiday shopping season, but expect a lull during the period before Black Friday this year, Perkins says.
"Too many low-income consumers are strapped right now," he says. "They will spend for back to school and the holidays but for the remainder of this time they're very cautious about what they're buying."