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October Retail Sales: A Pause That Refreshes?

October is becoming an increasingly important month for retailers, as the industry tries to spur shoppers to begin their holiday shoppingearlier in the year, according to Joel Bines, a managing director at consultancy AlixPartners.

“Consumers aren’t there yet,” Bines said. He expects shoppers will eventually get on board, however, because that has been “the natural progression” in the past.

Traditionally, October has been the third-smallest month for sales in the retail calendar. The month comes on the heels of the back-to-school shopping season, and ahead of the frenzied shopping of the winter holiday season.

But retailers are coaxing consumers to buy more in October in the hope that they will ultimately spend more over the course of the holiday season.

In the latest batch of October retail salesreports, most companies fell short of analysts’ estimates because Wall Street got a little ahead of the reality, Bines said. Still, it was a solid performance, especially given the current economic situation.

According to Thomson Reuters, same-store sales in October rose 3.4 percent, on average. While that is short of the 4.5 percent gain analysts were predicting, it is better than last year, when retail sales rose 1.6 percent.

To some degree, price inflation is helping to boost sales. According to Bines, the number of people heading to stores is down, but those shoppers are spending more when they buy.

”For now, consumers are either willing or have no choice but to accept the price inflation,” Bines said.

The weaker-than-expected growth also may reflect consumers' urge to spend less.

“Weather, pricing, and promotions all had some impact on October’s same-store sales results,” said Frank Badillo, a senior economist at Kantar Retail. “The biggest drag on growth, however, has to be the belated impact of shoppers’ intention to curb their spending in the coming months and into the holiday.”

The slowdown could be the pause that refreshes. Kantar’s ShopperScape survey improved, suggesting that retail sales growth may avoid a more significant falloff heading into the holiday season.

Questions? Comments? Email us at consumernation@cnbc.com. Follow Christina Cheddar Berk on Twitter @ccheddarberk.

Retail