Redbook avg. cools off in March

With cooler weather putting pressure on sales of seasonal merchandise for spring, same-store retail sales softened during the third week of March, giving up some of the strong gains made the prior week.

But in good news for home fashions suppliers, home goods once again continued to support retail business, maintaining a sustained rally that began before the holiday season.

Despite the steady strength in home-related merchandise, the overall tenor of business softened slightly last week. After charging up by 5.9 percent during the second week of the month, sales growth cooled off to 5.1 percent, according to the widely watched Redbook Retail Sales Average.

Hampered by continued weak sales at department stores, sales gains for the three weeks month-to-date came in off-plan at 5.2 percent, compared with a targeted increase of 5.6 percent.

"Both department and discount stores indicated that sales momentum had slowed slightly," said Redbook analyst Catlin Levis. "Retailers said cooler weather had depressed demand for seasonal spring merchandise, including both apparel and outdoor equipment."

Home, however, remained one of the brightest spots in the retail firmament. "Business at stores was supported by basic and household goods as well as by home-related merchandise, which continued its sustained run," said Levis. "In department stores, the business drivers were home goods, including appliances and electronics, and certain seasonal apparel categories, mainly children's wear."

The holiday supplied some extra juice, said Levis. "Easter-based buying became evident across a broad range of merchandise categories — from food to toys and footwear — related to the holiday.

Looking at business on a regional basis, Levis said stores in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic were the strongest performers.

Redbook Retail Sales Average
Third week of April

Week ended 3/9 3/16 3/23 3/30 4/6 Month Target
*Including chain stores and traditional department stores.
Source: Redbook Retail Sales Average, a unit of Instinet, a Reuters company.
Department Stores* 0.9 -0.1 -0.7 0.0 0.9
Discounters 7.3 9.8 8.8 8.7 8.7
Redbook Average 4.7 5.9 5.1 5.2 5.6

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