Retailers cheer September's sales recovery, a triumph of low expectations

Retailers are adapting to a new era of lowered expectations. September sales results scraped a razor-thin gain above last year's depressing sales, but that was good enough to made many merchants happy. Even store chains whose sales were down were raising their guidance to investors for their third-quarter reports coming in November. Most trotted out the better-than-expected line they've been using since summer.

Overall, a tally by the International Council of Shopping Centers calculated that same-store sales rose 0.1 percent in September, the first year-over-year increase since July 2008. Warehouse clubs sales were up 4.2 percent after factoring out the effect of cheaper gasoline prices, and drug stores were up 3.7 percent. But department stores are still suffering, with sales declines of 2.3 percent.