Same-store sales surged in July for many retailers. Others were left in the dust. Gap Inc. sales were up 9 percent, Neiman Marcus Group sales were up 10.2 percent, Costco sales were up 8 percent and Kohl's sales were up 6.7 percent. Aggressive pricing to move old merchandise and make way for fall items drove the boom for these retailers, according to Bear Stearns retail analyst Susan Berliner.

Abercrombie & Fitch's comp sales were down 11 percent, American Eagle Outfitters sales were down 10.1 percent for July, Limited Too sales were down 13 percent, The Wet Seal sales were down 12.3 percent. On a conference call, American Eagle execs blamed their dismal numbers on efforts to refocus the merchandise mix. Abercrombie & Fitch execs said strong demand for spring and summer clearance items, tight inventories and less promotional activity drove comps down. Limited Too, the month's biggest loser so far, is contending with price-sensitive shoppers defecting to cheaper retailers such as Old Navy and Aeropostale, says Wedbush Morgan Securities retail analyst Adrienne Tennant.

But down-and-out retailers have a chance to make up lost sales in August. "July is typically the one of the least-important months for retailers; the real test begins now, with back-to-school season underway," says Bear Stearns retail analyst Susan Berliner.