Industries that fell the hardest may see the biggest rebound

"There remains a large portion of the population that is financially able to take advantage of opportunistic buying when the price is right," says Gordon, who also publishes the online newsletter Retail Jewelry Insights. "People will buy if the discounts are aggressive enough."

Apparel and other discretionary items

Discounters including Wal-Mart, T.J. Maxx and a handful of teen fashion retailers have posted monthly sales increases, but most other clothing retailers — from Ann Taylor to Abercrombie & Fitch — are experiencing big monthly sales declines.

At Macy's, which saw a 9% sales drop in May, moderately priced apparel, cosmetics and housewares have done well through this recession. But higher-end clothing, handbags, luggage and furniture have lagged, says Macy's spokesman Jim Sluzewski.

"It's impossible to know when the economy will rebound, or what that rebound will look like," Sluzewski says. "One could argue that those categories that have lagged will turn up. But there's no way of knowing. While we believe the economy has stabilized, we've not yet seen meaningful signs of an upturn."

By Jayne O'Donnell

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