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Retail roundup: Retail sales, apparel sales, Wal-Mart, Walgreens

August 13, 2011 |  6:02 am

-- July retail sales edged up slightly, according to the Commerce Department. Monthly sales were up 0.5% from June and 8.5% from July 2010. Sectors including furniture, groceries and apparel fared well.

"Retailers are adjusting to the new normal: slow, hard-fought gains," said Sandy Kennedy, president of the Retail Industry Leaders Assn. "A variety of real and perceived obstacles, including disappointingly slow job growth and economic news, continues to fluctuate between subdued and chaotic and depress consumer confidence and spending."

-- Total apparel sales for the first six months of the year rose nearly 3%, market research firm NPD Group said. Men's apparel grew 4.6% and women's apparel sales were down 0.8%. "The women's market is dragging, and women may continue to shop in their closets and make concessions," said Marshal Cohen, NPD's chief industry analyst.

Shoppers are also contending with higher prices: Across the total apparel market, average retail prices rose 6% during the first half of 2011 compared with a year earlier.

-- Wal-Mart announced it has expanded its check-cashing and card-cashing services at stores nationwide. The world's largest retailer said it will now cash most types of preprinted checks up to $5,000, including student loan, rebate, 401(k) and insurance checks. The retail chain also said it would accept more forms of ID for check cashing and would establish Express Check Cashing checkout lanes at select stores during peak hours.

-- Walgreens will begin selling health insurance plans this fall, according to a CNN report, which cited people familiar with the matter. The drugstore chain will sell health insurance products with different price ranges and coverage levels through a private health insurance exchange. 

-- Andrea Chang