Sales growth slows in Whatcom County's retail industry

Whatcom County’s retail industry sales increased in the fourth quarter of 2013, but not nearly at the same pace merchants and store owners have grown accustomed to in recent years.

The county brought in more than $907 million in total retail sales between October and December last year, according to the Washington State Department of Revenue.

That’s 1.84 percent greater than the total brought in during the same months in 2012. Whatcom County has generally seen stronger retail growth over the past couple of years, with quarterly increases typically between 6-8 percent.

In the county’s retail trade sector—a subset that counts purchases of clothes, home furnishings, books, cars and general merchandise but excludes sales in industries such as manufacturing and construction—sales increased 1.36 percent to more than $467 million in the fourth quarter last year, compared to 2012.

Bellingham’s retail sales grew 1.75 percent to more than $604 million. The city’s retail trade subset grew 0.54 percent to more than $357 million.

The slowdown of retail growth in Whatcom County occurs as the Canadian dollar falls in value.

The loonie’s monthly average value dropped from 96 cents to the U.S. dollar in October last year to 94 cents in December, according to the Bank of Canada. During the same quarter in 2012, the loonie’s monthly average was between $1 and $1.01 to the U.S. dollar.

The loonie’s value has continued to decline since the end of last year. It was at 91 cents to the U.S. dollar at market close on Thursday, May 1, according to the Bank of Canada. The exchange rate’s monthly average in April was also at 91 cents.

Canadian shoppers have been major contributors to retail growth in Whatcom County in recent years. But a weaker loonie has brought worries that the retail boost local businesses have come to depend on could diminish.

General merchandise stores, including the large grocery and department stores Canadians tend to frequent in Bellingham, saw a 4.53 percent decline in sales during the fourth quarter last year, compared to 2012.

Sales activity among Whatcom County’s e-commerce and mail order retailers increased 18.58 percent during the same time period. Local new and used auto dealers also increased their fourth-quarter sales by 12.97 percent.

In Skagit County, which also sees a fair amount of Canadian shoppers, total retail sales grew 0.29 percent to more than $599 million in the fourth quarter of 2013, compared to last year. Skagit’s retail-trade subset decreased by 0.66 percent to more than $331 million.

Retailers saw stronger sales growth further south in Snohomish County, which has a larger population and pulls shoppers from the Seattle area. Total retail there increased by 6.2 percent to more than $3 billion in the fourth quarter of 2013. Snohomish’s retail trade increased 6.47 percent.

All total in Washington state, retail sales grew 5.8 percent to $31.1 billion, according to the Department of Revenue. Sales in the state’s retail-trade subset increased 4.9 percent to $14.7 billion.

By the numbers
Retail sales, Q4 2013

Whatcom County
Total retail sales—Q4 2013: $907,939,654; Q4 2012: $891,517,403 (1.84 percent increase). Retail trade subset—Q4 2013: $467,142,394; Q4 2012: $460,854,165 (1.36 percent increase).

Bellingham
Total retail sales—Q4 2013: $604,141,657; Q4 2012: $593,750,784 (1.75 percent increase). Retail trade subset—Q4 2013: $357,252,647; Q4 2012: $359,175,406 (0.54 percent decrease).

Lynden
Total retail sales—Q4 2013: $53,467,411; Q4 2012: $50,393,780 (6.1 percent increase). Retail trade subset—Q4 2013: $23,624,969; Q4 2012: $22,090,745 (6.95 percent increase).

Ferndale
Total retail sales—Q4 2013: $45,153,288; Q4 2012: $43,911,467 (2.83 percent increase). Retail trade subset—Q4 2013: $17,235,919; Q4 2012: $18,786,144 (8.25 percent decrease).

Blaine
Total retail sales—Q4 2013: $37,135,818; Q4 2012: $36,511,843 (1.71 percent increase). Retail sales subset—Q4 2013: 16,029,966; Q4 2012: $16,063,534 (0.21 percent decrease).

Sumas
Total retail sales—Q4 2013: $7,270,614; Q4 2012: $7,570,271 (3.96 percent decrease). Retail sales subset—Q4 2013: $4,558,756; Q4 2012: $4,247,674 (7.32 percent increase).

Everson
Total retail sales—Q4 2013: $6,008,557; Q4 2012: $5,311,440 (13.13 percent increase). Retail sales subset—Q4 2013: $2,283,317; Q4 2012: $2,098,317 (8.82 percent increase).

Nooksack
Total retail sales—Q4 2013: $1,904,801; Q4 2012: $1,694,935 (12.38 percent increase). Retail sales subset—Q4 2013: $908,752; Q4 2012: $828,479 (9.69 percent increase).

Unincorporated county areas
Total retail sales—Q4 2013: $152,857,504; Q4 2012: $152,372,880 (0.32 percent increase). Retail trade subset—Q4 2013: $45,248,065; Q4 2012: $37,563,922 (20.46 percent increase).

Skagit County
Total retail sales—Q4 2013, $599,570,604; Q4 2012, $597,831,825 (0.29 percent increase). Retail trade subset—Q4 2013, $331,127,954; Q4 2012: $333,321,155 (0.66 percent decrease).

Snohomish County
Total retail sales—Q4 2013: $3,015,789,998; Q4 2014: $2,839,797,764 (6.2 percent increase). Retail trade subset—Q4 2013: $1,672,099,563; Q4 2012: $1,570,449,280 (6.47 percent increase)

Source: Washington State Department of Revenue

Evan Marczynski, associate editor of The Bellingham Business Journal, can be reached at 360-647-8805, Ext. 5052, or evan@bbjtoday.com.

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