No More Winter Coats in June!

ON a 90-plus degree day at the end of summer, the scene at Northshore Shopping Mall in Peabody, Mass., is typical: Hardly a pair of shorts or a bathing suit are in sight.

Retail stores are stocked with fall and early winter merchandise. To put customers in the mood, some shops are turning up the air conditioning.

``Years ago, people would get upset when they'd see fall clothes in July, but now I think they're getting used to it,'' says a cashier at a major department store in Boston.

Although some shoppers maintain that the practice of clearing out summer merchandise for the fall line has moved earlier into the summer, the trend is actually the reverse, says Janet Mangano, a retail analyst with Burnham Securities in New York. ``At one time, merchandise was coming out in June. Now it's closer to season.''

Sears, Roebuck & Co. began introducing fall clothing as early as mid-July, and ``by mid-August, [the stores] are fully stocked,'' says spokeswoman Mary Jean Houde. May Department Stores similarly stocks its stores in mid-July, says Jim Abrams, a company spokesman.

``Customers are becoming more fickle about spending discretionary income on discretionary items'' such as clothing, Ms. Mangano says. ``Retailers are responding more to the customer than customers are to retailers.''

This has forced retailers to think carefully about offering winter coats in June, as one chain tried to do unsuccessfully several years ago.

Other factors delaying the introduction of fall merchandise include varying school starting dates, as well as year-round schools, Ms. Houde says. Kids also like to see what their peers are wearing, so fall promotions can last from July to September.

Christmas merchandise, however, is being stocked earlier, Mangano adds. Most Sears stores are fully stocked with holiday merchandise by Nov. 1, Houde says, with the first merchandise arriving in October.

``Card stores already have Christmas ornaments,'' Mangano adds.

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