Price cuts and special promotions boosted business at stores last month, but sluggish economic conditions continued to restrain overall retail sales growth, according to results released yesterday.
Several of the nation's largest retailers posted better June sales than May's disappointing tallies.
Despite the rebounds, retail analysts said the industry has been facing a difficult period because consumers have been losing confidence in their financial well-being and have grown more cautious about spending.
''People no longer whip out their plastic cards for anything that catches their fancy,'' said Kurt Barnard, a consultant and publisher of a retail industry newsletter.
Jeffrey Edelman of the investment house Barclays deZoete Wedd agreed: ''I think we are witnessing a gradual slowing in the consumer sector.''
Weakness in employment and income growth, combined with heavy debt loads, have made shoppers reluctant to spend freely, especially for expensive, long-lasting merchandise.
An index compiled by Barclays deZoete Wedd measuring sales at stores open at least a year showed that sales at 22 nationwide retailers rose 7.5 percent in June, up from 5 percent in May.
But Edelman said the percentage change overstated the actual improvement.
An improvement in sales at Sears, Roebuck and Co., the nation's biggest retailer, heavily influenced the index, which is weighted. After a barely perceptible 0.9 percent increase in same-store sales in May, Sears posted a June gain of 3.5 percent.
Same-store gains, comparing sales only at stores open a year or longer, give a more accurate reading of a retailer's performance. New stores typically attract extra shoppers who don't return month after month.
Retailers who slashed prices to unload slow-moving summer clothes also lifted the industry average. The promotional activity and markdowns, which reduce the amount of money retailers receive for goods, are expected to impair the industry's profitability.
''Second-quarter profits are going to be under pressure,'' said Edelman. ''We're not looking at disaster but we're looking at some deterioration.''
Wal-Mart Stores Inc., a Bentonville, Ark.-based nationwide chain that is the country's third-largest retailer, said its June sales soared 28 percent. Sales at Wal-Marts open a year or longer grew 14 percent.
Target, the discount store division of Minneapolis-based retailer Dayton Hudson Corp., posted a 14 percent gain in total sales and an 8 percent gain in its same-store sales.
In a comparison that illustrates the uneven performance among retailers, Dayton Hudson's department stores had a same-store sales increase of only 1 percent.
Among the big retail chains reporting yesterday:
K mart Corp., the second-largest retailer with headquarters in Troy, Mich., said its sales in the five weeks ended July 4 rose 13.7 percent while its same-store sales grew 4.3 percent.
J.C. Penney Co., based in Dallas, said its June sales rose 5.3 percent. On a comparable store basis, sales were up 4.1 percent.
May Department Stores Co., based in St. Louis, reported a total June sales gain of 8 percent while comparable store sales rose 3.2 percent.
The Limited Inc., based in Columbus, Ohio, posted a 15 percent increase in total June sales. Same-store sales rose 5 percent.
The Gap Inc., based in San Francisco, said its total June sales surged 31 percent while its same-store sales increased 24 percent.