Attempts to sell spring merchandise got a helping hand from better weather to begin March, helping to lift chain-store sales 2.1 percent over those of the comparable 2013 week.

This story first appeared in the March 13, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The International Council of Shopping Centers and Goldman Sachs, in their weekly chain-store sales index, reported that sales for the week ended Saturday were up 1.3 percent from prior-week levels. The year-over-year change matched the level of the week ended Feb. 15 and the sequential figure was the best since the 2.5 percent mark registered during the February week.

Michael Niemira, vice president of research and chief economist at ICSC, told WWD that less severe weather conditions aided the sales pickup but weren’t solely responsible for it.

“I suppose we’re still struggling at this point to find the catalyst for spring selling that you would hope better weather might be,” he said. “Weather is going to continue to be an issue this month, based on all the forecasts, but I feel better with a good start to the month.”

While department stores and e-commerce have done better than the retail market in general in recent weeks, sales have been challenging at discount and dollar stores.

“There was better activity at discounters this past week, but some segments continue to struggle,” Niemira noted. “Dollar stores still look weak.”

He was also encouraged by an increase in the Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index last month, which showed higher-income individuals feeling better about economic prospects than at any time since August.

“That’s one of those tidbits out there that’s quite encouraging,” the economist said. “You sort of count on the high end.”

He said he expects retail sales to come back in the second quarter but was cautious about the potential height of the bounce.

“We should see a rebound in the second quarter, but I don’t expect anything spectacular,” he concluded.