Most retailers sales were adversely impacted this month by the Easter holiday shift out of March into April

Most retailer's sales were adversely impacted this month by the Easter holiday shift out of March into April

March proved to be another difficult month for the handful of US apparel retailers still reporting their monthly comparable sales figures, with three hurt by a later Easter and lower foot traffic.

According to research firm Retail Metrics, March same-store sales were expected to increase 2.2%, compared with a gain of 0.2% in the same month last year and a 1.8% rise in February.

However, Retail Metrics president Ken Perkins says most company's sales were adversely impacted this month by the Easter holiday shift out of March into April.

But he also warns retailers cannot continue to blame the economy for their ongoing woes since private sector employment continues to climb, US consumers are earning a paycheck, the United States economy is growing at a moderate rate, the housing market is been on solid footing and consumer confidence touched a 16-year high in March.

Winners and losers

All but one of the apparel retailers still reporting monthly comparable store sales posted declines in March, with the remaining three all reporting double-digit falls.

Denim specialist The Buckle posted a slightly better than expected month, with a 10.1% comp store sales decline that represented a sizeable sequential improvement from a 23% drop last month. The Kearney, Nebraska-based chain has now racked up a string of 21 straight negative monthly same-store sales results. The Buckle, which operates 468 retail stores, saw net sales also decline 10.1% to US$86.8m for the five weeks ended 2 April, down from $96.6m in the year-ago period. 

Meanwhile, comparable store sales for value-priced fashion and accessories retailer Cato Corporation continued on their negative trend in March, falling 21% after being hit particularly hard by the Easter holiday shift compounded by merchandising misses. However, this was an improvement from a 25% decline in February. Cato has now posted negative monthly comps in each of the last 13 months. Net sales for the month also declined, dropping 22% to $93.2m from $118.8m in the same period last year.

CEO John Cato said: "We expect current sales headwinds to continue as we work through our merchandise assortment missteps. In addition, March sales were negatively impacted by the shift of Easter from March last year to April this year. Because of this shift, the best measure for performance is the combined sales for the two months."

L Brands, owner of the Victoria's Secret, Pink and La Senza brands, turned in a 10% comparable store sales decline for March that fell short of Retail Metrics' -9.1% consensus forecast but represented at sequential improvement from the speciality apparel chain's 13% February comp decline. Net sales were down 7% to $951.4m for the five weeks ended 1 April. The company noted the exit of both the swim and apparel businesses had a negative 7 percentage point impact on March same-store sales. It added the later Easter had a 200-300 bp negative impact on March same store sales and is expected to benefit April by roughly 300 bp. L Brands operates 3,078 company-owned speciality stores in the US, Canada, the UK and Greater China.

Speciality apparel and footwear retailer Zumiez, meanwhile, recorded a 1.1% increase in comparable store sales, compared with a decrease of 7.8% in the period last year, missing Retail Metrics' expectations of a 2.8% gain. Both juniors and men's categories comped positive for a second consecutive month while hardgoods, accessories, and footwear comped negative. Total sales also increased, up 4.3% to $71.7m, compared to $68.8m in the year-ago period. The company operates 684 stores across the US, Canada, Europe and Australia. 

Last month, San Francisco-based Gap Inc, which operates around 3,300 company-operated stores and 450 franchise stores, confirmed to just-style it is "moving away from monthly sales reporting."