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Later Easter clunks March comps

New York - March's store-sales results for the 13 major retailers tracked monthly by HTT were negative, a very different picture from a year ago, when an early Easter lifted some retailer's comps by double digits.

This year's Easter holiday arrives April 24 - almost three weeks later than last year.

"As expected, we reported a decrease in comparable store sales in March due to the timing of Easter, noted Kevin Mansell, chairman, president and ceo of Menomonee Falls, Wis.-based Kohl's, which posted the highest comp decrease for March, down 6.5%.

Home was among the categories that outperformed the company average.

After Kohl's, York, Pa.-based The Bon-Ton Stores suffered the highest comp decline at 6.1%. But here, too, home - including furniture - was among the best performing categories.

Seemingly less affected by the later holiday were the five retailers that posted comp increases, most of them modest.

Only Costco had a high single digit result - 7.0%, which was helped along by a double-digit comp increase in housewares and home furnishings as well as a few other soft-lines categories.

BJ's Wholesale Club, in Westborough, Mass., attributed its 1.3% comp gain - second best on the March list - in part to increased sales of food. By comparison, sales of general merchandise fell by approximately 2%.

A close third in the month was Cincinnati-based Macy's, which churned a 0.9% comp increase - exceeding expectations, noted chairman, president and ceo Terry Lundgren.

Macy's said it continues to be optimistic about sales in April, which should benefit from the Easter shift and a cosmetics promotion. The department store expects its same-store sales this month to be up by 8% to 9%, which would translate to an increase of 4% to 4.5% for the combined March-April period. Previously, the company said it expected combined March-April sales to be up by approximately 3%.

The last winner on the plus-comp list was Duckwall-Alco, which in March achieved its second consecutive month of positive same-store sales at the onset of the new fiscal year, noted Rich Wilson, president and ceo.


Comps slipped 0.3% at Plano, Texas-based JCPenney, which cited its home business as a sales driver during the five weeks and so far in the first quarter.

Within JCP's home department, the most "sizeable" increases came from housewares, bath and luggage.

Minneapolis-based Target's soft comps, down 5.5%, were "in line with our expectations," said Gregg Steinhafel, chairman, president and ceo, who said the company expects a mid-teens increase in April comparable-store sales.

Home, however, was not a strength at Target in March, declining in the high single digit range.

At Jacksonville, Fla.-based Stein Mart, comps were also down (3.9%), but home was a bright spot.

At Dillard's, where comps fell 1.0%, home was significantly below trend.

 

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