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Retail sales climb 4.3% in March, a good sign

By Shan Li

Los Angeles Times

Published: Thursday, April 5 2012 9:02 p.m. MDT

Lauren Mager, left, works with Jade Bonomo during the Nordstrom Beauty Bash at City Creek Center in March.

Ravell Call, Ravell Call, Deseret News

Enlarge photo»

LOS ANGELES (MCT) — Shoppers hit the malls in March and provided a boost for the nation's retailers, a good sign for consumer spending this spring despite continuing worries about rising gas prices.

Major chain stores posted a healthy 4.3 percent sales increase in March compared with the same month a year earlier, beating analysts' expectations of a more modest 3.5 percent rise. Discounters, teen retailers and apparel sellers all posted healthy sales increases, according to Thomson Reuters' tally of 20 retailers.

"Overall, it was a pretty decent month," said Judith Russell, editor of the Robin Report, a retail industry publication. "Initial spring sales were pretty good, and the weather helped motivate a lot of people to shop for warm-weather clothes."

Top performers were a mixture of high- and low-end stores. Action-sports chain Zumiez Inc. led the way with a 14.1 percent bump. Benefiting from a continuing thrifty mind-set, off-price retailers Ross Stores Inc. and TJX Cos. both reported a strong 10 percent increase. Luxury retailer Nordstrom Inc., which opened a new anchor store in Salt Lake City's City Creek Center last month, saw sales rise 8.6 percent. Gap Inc., which has been struggling in the past year, beat expectations with a robust 8 percent jump.

Other retailers did not fare as well. Struggling teen clothier Wet Seal said sales fell 7.8 percent, while drugstore chain Walgreen Co. reported a 6.8 percent drop.

All told, about 59 percent of retailers beat expectations, Thomson Reuters said.

Many retailers benefit from a boost in March as students shop for spring break and families buy clothing and accessories in advance of Easter.

Results are based on sales at stores open at least a year, known as same-store sales and considered an important measure of a retailer's health because it excludes the effect of stores' openings and closings.

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