Takashimaya Nihonbashi

TOKYO – Japan’s department stores saw increased sales in March, despite a slow start to the month due to cold weather which dented sales of spring items.

Overall, sales were given a boost by high tax-free sales to overseas visitors. Lower-priced retailers didn’t fare as well, however.

Fast Retailing said Tuesday that same-store sales at its Uniqlo stores in Japan declined by 1.1 percent year-on-year. Customer numbers were up 6.6 percent, but the average purchase per customer contracted by 7.2 percent.

“Wireless bras and other items (that received wide press coverage) sold well in March but, overall, same-store sales dipped slightly year on year as cool weather across the country chilled demand for new Spring ranges,” Fast Retailing said.

After two openings and three closures in March, Fast Retailing currently counts 790 Uniqlo stores across Japan.

Shimamura, which operates the Fashion Center Shimamura chain of low-priced apparel stores, saw its March sales fall by 6.4 percent on the year. It has 1,365 stores in Japan.

Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings said sales at its nine department stores in the Tokyo metropolitan area rose 0.7 percent last month. Most individual stores experienced single-digit sales declines, but the overall number was boosted by the Mitsukoshi store in Chiba, just outside of Tokyo, where March sales more than doubled compared to the same month last year.

Takashimaya saw sales among its 17 department stores in Japan grow 2.4 percent on the year. The retailer’s biggest sales growth came from stores in urban centers, such as Tokyo and Osaka. The store attributed the gains partly to tax-free purchases, sales of big-ticket items due to the weak yen, and promotions.

H2O Retailing, which operates the Hankyu and Hanshin department store chains, said March sales among those stores grew by 1.1 percent on the year. The Hankyu flagship store in Osaka’s Umeda district fared particularly well, with sales coming in 3.1 percent higher than the same month last year.

J. Front Retailing was the only major Japanese department store operator to see a year-on-year decline in March sales. Its 18 Daimaru and Matsuzakaya stores saw their sales slip by 0.3 percent overall.

Masafumi Shoda, a research analyst at Nomura, was cautiously optimistic about department store sales in Japan in the coming months.

“Assuming that equity and currency markets remain at their current level, department store sales could well continue to recover for now,” Shoda wrote in a report.

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