Propelled by the warm weather, colorful, fresh spring apparel and accessories, and Easter falling on April 8 this year versus April 24 in 2011, many retailers on Thursday reported high-single-digit or low-double-digit comparable store sales gains for March.
Macy’s rose 7.3 percent; Saks Fifth Avenue was ahead 6.3 percent; Nordstrom was up 8.6 percent; TJX Cos. and Ross Stores both rose 10 percent; and Limited Stores grew 8 percent.
Gap Inc. posted a surprising 8 percent gain, spurred by redesigned assortments and better traffic trends. “We delivered solid sales performance in March and are pleased with customer response to product across all brands,” said Glenn Murphy, Gap’s chairman and chief executive officer. However, the San Francisco-based chain was coming off a low base of volume from March a year ago when comps were down double digits. RELATED STORY: March Comp Crux >>
Retail experts said stores would have done well in March even without the benefits of warm weather and the calendar shift. Consumers have been more prone to spending since Christmas and are feeling securer in their jobs this year with the economy and employment slowly improving. At this point, gas prices hovering around an average of $4 a gallon have not hampered spending much.
“There is some underlying strength in the business,” observed Laura Gurski, partner and global head of A.T. Kearney’s retail practice. “We don’t have the big shocking news that would destabilize spending. Even if the weather had not been so nice, we would have expected an uptick, maybe more gradual than it was.”
She expects that April and May will also yield good results, based on trends since Christmas. “In 2010, we had a really strong holiday that did not continue into the first quarter. This year, we had another strong holiday and it did continue. Apparel sales have been very strong.”
“Stores were up against weaker numbers last year, but there is no question they did well in March. Easter is significant and a lot of the business is done at regular price,” said Arnold Aronson, managing director of retail strategy at Kurt Salmon Associates.
Though the economy is improving, “we’re not completely out of the woods,” Aronson said. “There are still issues like gas prices and declining home equity and weakness in Europe and the unknown volatility that could set in. Certainly, a good many stores exceeded plans for March, but we have to wait to see what the give back will be in April.”
“There was strength across all sectors — luxury, midtier and value. March was a sign that the consumer is getting a little bit more confident and that is good for everybody,” said Joel Bines, managing director at AlixPartners’ global retail practice.
But Bines and the other analysts cautioned that March probably took a bite out of April sales, due to the earlier Easter. Ross Stores, for example, sees only a 1 to 2 percent gain for April. And Macy’s, expects the combined increase for the two months to be between 4.3 and 4.5 percent, lower than the March figure but above the 3 to 3.5 percent increase originally forecast.
The analysts also said that soaring gas prices could have a greater impact on shopping in the summer when families go on road trips and buy back-to-school clothes.
The numbers are also distorted by some stores blending their online sales into the comp-store sales, which hikes the results. American Apparel, for example, said it was up 21 percent last March, including online sales.
“March sales exceeded our expectations beyond the benefits we anticipated from an earlier Easter and a shift in a cosmetics event from April last year to March this year,” said Terry J. Lundgren, chairman, president and ceo of Macy’s, which had a 7.3 percent gain in comparable sales, including e-commerce revenues. “Once again, our strength in performance was balanced across Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s, stores and online, geographies and families of business.”
Target Corp. reported 7.3 percent growth, versus an estimate of 5.4 percent, reflecting what Gregg Steinhafel, chairman, president and ceo of the mass merchandiser, described as a “healthy underlying trend” in business to go with the advantageous Easter timing and the weather last month.
One possible factor behind that healthy underlying trend could be how an increasing number of retailers are operating. “They’ve become much more scientific in their approach to inventory management and flow,” Aronson said. “It’s much more analytic and process-driven.”
U.S. retail stocks perked up 0.7 percent on the comp results, but the market continued to slide as economic worries lingered from earlier in the week and investors looked ahead to today’s employment report.
The S&P Retail Index rose 4.19 points to 624.72, as the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 14.61 points to 13,060.14. Fashion’s gainers included Ross Stores Inc., up 2.5 percent to $59.81; The TJX Cos. Inc., 2.4 percent to $40.29; Lululemon Athletica Inc., 2.3 percent to $77.06, and Ralph Lauren Corp., 2.3 percent to $178.06.
“These collections continue to build on that vision, empowering differently abled adults to express themselves through fashion,” said @tommyhilfiger of his line of adaptive apparel, which launches today. The line consists of 37 men’s and 34 women’s styles based upon the pieces from the spring Tommy Hilfiger sportswear collection. #wwdnews
“Stranger Things” is getting a new cast member for season 2. Meet @sadiesink_, the 15-year-old who will be joining the Netflix series for its new season. You may recognize her from “The Glass Castle” with Brie Larson and Woody Harrelson, but the Texas native’s next role goes in an entirely different direction. She describes her character, Max, as “a rough and tumble skater girl [who] becomes friends with the boys at school.” The second season debuts on October 27. (📷: @jgreenery) #wwdeye
Amid the Harvey Weinstein controversy, there’s another sector that’s being put under the spotlight for sexual abuse: the modeling industry. While rumors about abuse and sexual harassment of female and male models — and the photographers, agents and others who perpetrated it — have circulated within the fashion world for years, model @cameronrussell started posting stories from models on Instagram last week about abusive situations they’ve encountered — from sexual harassment and molestation to attempted rape. Over 75 have weighed in so far. Read more on WWD.com. Link in bio. #wwdnews
To celebrate its 16th anniversary, @dylanscandybar tapped designers and celebrities to create mosaics out of candy. The mosaics will be auctioned off to support the philanthropic cause of each participant’s choice. Pictured here is the mural created by @aliceandolivia's Stacey Bendet. For a first look at some of the other artwork being unveiled tonight, go to WWD.com. #wwdeye
The annual Veuve Clicquot Polo Classic in Pacific Palisades this weekend drew Kate Hudson, Tracee Ellis Ross, Laura Dern and more. See pictures of the star-studded event on WWD.com. (📷: @chelsealaurenla) #wwdeye
In his new book “Hollywood Royale,” Andy Warhol’s Protégé Matthew Rolston celebrates the Eighties revival of Hollywood glamour. Featuring more than 100 portraits taken by Rolston from 1977 to 1993, the book contains photos of icons like Michael Jackson, Cyndi Lauper, and @drewbarrymore, pictured here in 1991. “Hollywood Royale,” out today, will be accompanied by an exhibition opening at Los Angeles’ Fahey/Klein Gallery on March 1. #wwdeye
"Nowadays when life is not so happy with everything going on in the world, I think people come to me for a little bit of whimsy and color and fun." - Designer Rebecca De Ravenel on her cult-favorite jewelry line. (📸 : @vsteves) #wwd40
“Everyone is talking about how the retail industry is struggling, but I think it’s an incredible time because brands who are doing something different and innovative are setting themselves up for the future,” said @adamgoldston, who founded the luxury athletic brand @apl with his brother @ryangoldsten. The Goldston’s are part of WWD’s 40 under 40: a group of industry notables. See the rest of the list on WWD.com. (📷: @vsteves) #wwd40
@eyeswoon blogger Athena Calderone debuted her first-ever cookbook, “Cook Beautiful,” which is heavily centered on the presentation and visual expression of food. Pictured here are her miso glazed carrots from the book. Get the recipe on WWD.com. (📷: @johnny_miller_) #wwdeye