Despite a warm weather boost for summer merchandise and the later timing of the Memorial Day calendar which shifted some sales into June, worries about the still-fragile state of the economic recovery continued to weigh on US shoppers last month.

Results booked by US retailers yesterday (8 July) showed a gain of just 3.2% on May, according to Kantar Retail, suggesting that the momentum in consumer spending seen earlier this year is continuing to take a breather.

Even so, this was better than the 2.7% same-store sales gain last month and the 4.7% decline in June of 2009.

"The June results are positive, but the recovery in retail sales will be challenged in the coming months as long as doubts grow among shoppers," explains said Frank Badillo, senior economist at Kantar Retail. 

"And it's clear that the news from the Gulf to Europe is starting to affect the outlook among shoppers."

Growth, it seems, was largely due to some spending simply shifting from May to June - especially those related to Memorial Day or driven by the weather. A cool snap in May chilled demand for summer fashions, while sunshine in June appears to have encouraged families to restock their summer wardrobes.

Apparel sector gains were driven by family and children, according to MasterCard Advisors' SpendingPulse.

Its figures show footwear and men's apparel sales both rose by 0.3%, reversing May's declines, while the fall in women's apparel slowed to 1.6%. Father's day in particular helped push men's apparel back into slightly positive territory.

"Financial market performance coupled with weaker consumer confidence figures correlated with weakness in sales in higher priced, discretionary items, as well as durable goods," explained Michael McNamara, vice president of research and analysis at SpendingPulse.

The results were led by stronger-than-average results at department stores followed by apparel and accessory stores.

Online sales also continued to be a bright spot, with apparel posting double digit growth for the seventh consecutive month. Women's apparel online sales, one of the weaker performers, still grew by a 3.8%.

But while June is traditionally a clearance month, many retailers have had to resort to deeper discounting to clear stocks.

And looking ahead, not only are year-on-year comparisons set to get tougher during the second half of the year, but the impact of higher sourcing costs including oil, labour, freight and cotton will start to take their toll too.

If this isn't bad enough, the back-to-school sales period is looming - the second-largest selling season after the holidays - which will be a key indicator as to how the rest of the year is likely to shape up.