Sellers of cars and medical goods had a much better September this year, while others in the generally sluggish local retail sector could only look on in envy.
Economists said yesterday that the sector remains weak and sales might not pick up much for the rest of the year, although cash registers could start to ring again next year amid the SG50 celebrations.
Overall retail takings rose 5.5 per cent in September, compared with levels achieved in the same month last year, the Department of Statistics said yesterday.
After car sales are stripped out, however, the growth figure comes to just 0.6 per cent.
CIMB economist Song Seng Wun noted that even though the performance reversed three straight months of shrinking non-car retail sales, calling it "a turning point" might be difficult, given the subdued retail environment.
Motor vehicle sales shone in September, up 30 per cent from figures seen in the same month last year.
The pace was a little slower than in August, when car sales surged 49.5 per cent year-on-year because of a drop in certificate of entitlement (COE) premiums.
Petrol service stations also posted a rise in receipts, by 0.6 per cent, in September.
The second-best performer for the month - medical goods and toiletries - raked in 6.9 per cent more sales than it did previously.
Sales of phones, computers, watches and jewellery went up too, by slightly more than 3 per cent, based on retail sales index data.
Mr Song said the rise in medical goods receipts could have been due to the haze and fears over Ebola - more people could have bought more items such as air purifiers and masks.
The launch of Apple's iPhone 6 in September probably boosted phone sales for the month as well, he added.
The sharpest decline was in sales of recreational goods - a category that includes music and video recordings, sports equipment, games and toys. Takings shrank 7.1 per cent.
For furniture and household equipment, sales dropped 6.9 per cent.
Mr Song noted that retailers are struggling with heightened competition, which has come in the form of new malls and online commerce. "The pie isn't growing much bigger," he said.
"It's a more competitive landscape, and people are spending selectively."
But he said that consumer spending here could go up next year as the nation celebrates its golden jubilee, partly because of greater demand for food catering and SG50 memorabilia.
Overall retail sales fell 0.4 per cent from August to September. Without car sales, the drop would have been 0.9 per cent.
This article was first published on November 15, 2014. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.