Retailers See Mixed Results in March

Retailers posted a range of same-store sales results Thursday, as surging gas prices, a later Easter and lingering winter weather across the U.S. held back much of consumer spending in March.

Mass-market retailers were hardest hit by the unfavorable impacts on March traffic and sales while luxury stores stayed resilient.

Kohl’s Corp. said its comparable-store sales for the five-week month ended April 2, 2011 decreased 6.5 percent compared to the same period a year ago.

Kevin Mansell, chairman, president and CEO of Kohl’s, said in a statement, that the result was “as expected … due to the timing of Easter.”

Footwear and children’s, which are most sensitive to the Easter shift, reported the highest decrease in comparable sales, he added, while accessories, home, men’s and women’s outperformed the company average.

The Bon-Ton Stores Inc. saw its comparable-store sales for March fall 6.1 percent, dragged down by poor performance in children’s apparel, ladies sportswear and men’s accessories.

Best performing categories were home, cosmetics and fine jewelry, said Tony Buccina, vice chairman and president of merchandising, in a statement, adding he believes “the combination of the shift of the Easter holiday sales as well as the arrival of more seasonable weather will result in a strong sales performance in April.”

J.C. Penney’s comps slipped 0.3 percent, while total company sales decreased 4 percent, even though the retailer expanded its Call It Spring concept with the Aldo Group to 100 stores during the month. Meanwhile, women’s apparel and accessories, as well as fine jewelry, reported the strongest results.

Upscale retailers reported more positive results. 

Nordstrom Inc. saw its same-store sales advance 5.1 percent on the back of strong performances in jewelry, dresses and men’s apparel. Sales results were also strongest in the middle of the month, the company said in a statement.

Saks Inc.’s comps surged 11.1 percent, buoyed by strong sales across many categories including women’s and men’s shoes, women’s designer collections and contemporary apparel, and men’s apparel.

At Macy’s Inc., which operates both Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s, same-store sales inched up 0.9 percent, exceeding management’s expectations.

“March sales … demonstrated that our spring fashion assortments are hitting the mark with customers. We generated same-store sales increases at both Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s, despite a calendar shift in which the pre-Easter period and a planned cosmetics promotion at Macy’s fall into April this year versus March last year,” said Terry Lundgren, chairman, president and CEO of Macy’s, Inc., in a statement.

The company continues to be optimistic about sales in April, with same-store sales that month expected to be up by 8 percent to 9 percent. That would translate to an increase of 4 to 4.5 percent for the combined March-April period.

Analysts had expected last year’s exceedingly strong comp figures to be hard to beat. Thomson Reuters was looking for March sales at stores open at least a year to show a 0.7 percent fall across the 25 chains it tracks, while the International Council of Shopping Centers said it expected same-store sales to be flat to up 2 percent for March.

“The consensus opinion was that March wouldn’t be stellar so there was a chance to surprise on the upside,” said BB&T analyst Scott Krasik.

Sam Poser, analyst at Sterne Agee, agreed stores performed better than expected.

“Only two companies, Kohl’s and Target, called out footwear as disappointing categories, but footwear was strong at Saks, Buckle and Zumiez. Nordstrom also said footwear was better than the comp,” said Poser.

“April will be strong, for both brands and retailers,” he added.

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