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Retail sales climb 4.3% in March, a good sign

Published: Saturday, Sept. 5 2015 6:43 a.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) Lauren Mager, left, works with Jade Bonomo during the Nordstrom Beauty Bash at City Creek Center in March. (Ravell Call, Ravell Call, Deseret News)

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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