By  on April 13, 2007

March same-store sales went out like a lion because of an early Easter.

Sales leading up to the holiday last Sunday were counted in March results. Consumers ready to switch to a new season also bolstered volume. As a result, many companies exceeded industry expectations.

Analysts and individual retailers cautioned, however, that the boost could come at the expense of April numbers.

Overall, apparel retailers reported overwhelmingly positive results. Of the 49 companies tracked by WWD, 44 showed same-store sales gains, two were flat and two declined. Department stores increased an average of 7.9 percent, specialty stores increased 7.1 percent and mass merchants were up 6.6 percent.

"Easter supercharged excitement about the new season," said Patricia Walker, partner in the retail practice at Accenture, a consulting firm.

March results seemed to surprise the analyst community, which is unusual, she said. Easter had a far more positive impact on the month than many predicted. The true measure of the spring selling season, however, will be the combined results of March and April, Walker cautioned.

Richard Jaffe, an analyst with Stifel Nicolaus, predicted that Easter would move approximately 3 percent of sales out of April and into March, in a note released before the bulk of retailers had reported.

"Overall comp-store sales were much better than expected in March as a result of the Easter calendar shift and warmer weather in some parts of the country," said Michael Niemira, chief economist, International Council of Shopping Centers. "Though chain store sales were strong in March, April faces a much harder comparison due to the lack of a sales driver and projections of unseasonably colder than normal weather throughout the month."

Chain store sales increased 5.9 percent, according to ICSC data, the strongest sales increase since last April, when sales grew by 6.7 percent. March sales exceeded expectations that they would increase by 4 to 5 percent.

Weather patterns during the month were erratic, although some retailers attributed their performance to warmer-than-average temperatures in some regions. March was the warmest it's been in decades, but cold temperatures in the eastern U.S. during Easter week and earlier in the month offset the positives during some of the month. The most positive results were seen in areas of the Midwest and on the West Coast, where temperatures were warmer than normal.

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