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Upstairs gains offset discounters’ drag on comp sales

New York -- Helped for a third straight week by unexpected strength at department stores, which offset surprising weakness at the nation's big discounters, same-store retail sales rose by 4.3% during the third week of March, the Johnson Redbook Index reported.

Helped by warmer weather and the upcoming Easter holiday, department stores boosted their comps by an impressive 5.9%, while mass merchants grew their business at roughly half that pace, up a disappointing 3.3%.

For the three weeks so far, department stores advanced an average of 5.2%, easily topping a target of 4.9% growth.

So far during March, discounters missed their sales targets substantially, with comps rising an average of 3.1%, far behind a target of 4.0% growth.

Redbook analyst Catlin Levis said, "A number of retailers reported a pickup in business over the week as temperatures in most parts of the country turned warmer. Many retailers were satisfied with both traffic and average tickets over the week as a whole. Easter-based buying became evident across a broad range of merchandise categories from garden equipment to food, toys, footwear, and women's apparel."

Sales momentum has edged up progressively through the month, she said, and "is expected to continue to rise steadily into the Easter weekend." She added, "In the coming weeks, consumers will get a lift from income tax refunds, which could also provide a spark to generate sales."

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