Much-improved monthly retail sales results reported last week pointed in part to a warming economic recovery, observers said.
Shoppers replenishing following winter storms in the East, as well as an earlier Easter holiday than last year, also contributed to a 9.2% comparable-store sales increase among 30 publicly traded retailers reporting sales last week. The same group combined for a 4.7% comparable-store sales decrease last March, according to Kantar Retail, London.
Comparisons with the soft year-ago period and the Easter holiday shift is tempering predictions for continued sales strength in April.
“Everything from the weather to the calendar helped drive more shoppers into retail stores in March,” Frank Badillo, senior economist at Kantar. “There will be a letup in April, but sales should hold up better than might be expected given the ongoing recovery in spending plans by shoppers.”
RetailSails, a New York-based retail sales tracker, estimated that about half of the sales gain resulted from the earlier holiday: “On the face of it, the results look unbelievably impressive and seem to scream ‘the consumer is back,’ but we must note that the early Easter likely played a significant part in the gains.”
Among retailers selling food, BJ's Wholesale Club said sales for the five-week period ending April 3 improved by 7.3% excluding gasoline, with a 9% increase in food sales leading the gain. The retailer, based in Natick, Mass., noted shoppers in the Middle Atlantic states provided strong sales following a severe snowstorm.
Membership club rival Costco Wholesale Corp., Issaquah, Wash., posted U.S. comp gains of 2% excluding gasoline. It indicated sales were strongest in deli, cooler and candy categories and noted that pre-Easter sales helped to partially offset one less selling day than the year-ago period.
Costco also noted that food deflation of about 1.5% was slowing.