Industry commentators continue to be upbeat about the ongoing recovery in shoppers' spending, even though figures released on Thursday (6 May) showed same-store sales at many US retailers took a tumble in April.

As expected the early Easter, which shifted pre-holiday selling into March and provided a much-needed boost to that month's revenues, came at the expense of April sales.

And many firms posting results yesterday also blamed unseasonably cool and wet weather for hurting their performance too.

But according to Frank Badillo, senior economist at consultancy and research firm Retail Forward: “More than one-third of the retailers reporting posted gains in April on top of March’s gains.”

“These results provide some signs of the pick-up in spending that shoppers are sustaining despite the Easter calendar shift,” he adds.

April’s retail sales increased 1.2% based on a sales-weighted average – the eighth consecutive monthly rise.

This is down from the 9.2% same-store sales gain last month, but up from the 2.3% decline in April last year.

One way to offset the shifting holiday and provide a truer comparison of consumer spending is to combine results for March and April.

“For those weaker categories, most notably apparel, April and March taken together yielded a slightly positive year-over year growth over April and March 2009,” said Michael McNamara, vice president, research and analysis for SpendingPulse.

For March/April, on average, specialty apparel sales actually gained 1% year-over-year, the SpendingPulse figures show. This compares with a drop of 3.9% in April alone.

Crucially, prices also continued to hold firm, with the average ticket price for apparel up by a healthy 3.5%.

The Easter shift affected women’s apparel the most, with the sector declining 4.1% in April. Men’s apparel posted a slight year-over-year decline of 0.5%, and footwear sales were down 1.7%.   

Losers during the month included teen apparel retailers Hot Topic, Wet Seal, Abercrombie & Fitch  and Buckle, all of which saw their monthly sales fall.

April surprises came from Gap Inc, the largest US speciality apparel retailer, where same-store sales dropped 3%. And discount chain Target, whose monthly sales dropped 5.9%.

Among the few bright spots were Limited Brands, operator of the Victoria's Secret chain, with sales increasing 4%, and department stores Macy's (up 1.1%) and Nordstrom (up 7.5%).

Retailers have been keeping a tight control over inventories and costs in an attempt to align their products with demand and avoid discounting in order to drive shoppers into their stores.

There are also hopes that the return of warmer, seasonal weather will help drive sales of summer merchandise in the next couple of months.