By  on March 9, 2007

With a late-winter freeze chilling demand for spring apparel, February same-store sales were dull, despite bright spots in the department store channel.

Saks Inc. was the standout of the month in the high-end channel with a 24.7 percent gain, while Nordstrom posted a 9.1 percent rise. The specialty retailers seemed to suffer the most disappointments, analysts said.

The late onset of winter, combined with bitter-cold weather across the eastern U.S., kept consumers from stores for spring buying. According to Weather-Driven Demand Indices compiled by Planalytics Inc., "weather favorability" was negative for 93 percent of the companies the weather firm tracks.

"The only saving grace this year was the fact [that] weather conditions last year in the east were also relatively cold and snowy, making the comparison slightly less daunting," said Paul Walsh, senior vice president of Planalytics. "On the positive side, spring turned on early in the West and mountain states with temperatures that average slightly above normal."

Of the retailers tracked by WWD, the specialty sector's comps average for the month declined 0.6 percent. Mass merchants fared slightly better, posting a 2 percent average increase in sales at stores open at least a year, while department stores continued to benefit from the security of the luxury consumer base and posted an average increase of 4.9 percent.

While weather could be blamed for a lot of the slowdown in growth for February, analysts noted that some retailers were able to hit it out of the park anyway.

"Clearly, the headline is that weather did have a big influence in February," said Patricia Walker, partner in constuling firm Accenture's retail practice. "However, I think the bottom line is that those retailers that had great product at the right price and/or had unique product were able to win, even though there were weather issues in February."

Retail Forward reported that February same-store sales of the retailers it follows showed a 2.6 percent average gain. The composite average in January was a 4 percent gain. Weather was not the only reason retailers' sales numbers were down, the firm said.

"Apparel specialty stores are losing out to department stores right now, particularly among upmarket households. And the impact of a weak housing market is spreading beyond home improvement stores," said Frank Badillo, director and senior economist at Retail Forward KnowledgeBase.

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