Overall same-store sales may have been down in low-singles for March, but retailers exhibited a cautious optimism when discussing outlook regarding the months ahead. Some prognosticators and analysts are suggesting (dare we mention it?) we have seen the worst of the recession and have begun the treacherous ascent from retail hell. No need to pop the Dom Perignon just yet, though. Retail experts from various factions warned that a rebound will be a tedious and measured process as a gun-shy consumer with limited discretionary income continues to feel out the retail environment.
Another factor negatively impacting the sales was the nearly 40% year-over-year drop in gasoline prices that impacted wholesales club sales, which posted a 2.3% drop on ICSC report.
Most notable of retailers affected by the various detracting factors was Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., which reported a 1.4% increase in March comps excluding fuel sales, falling short of a projected 3.2% increase suggested by a Thomson Reuters poll. Eduardo Castro-Wright, vice chairman of Wal-Mart, commented, “Based on the initial strength of our sales this week, we expect Easter to drive April sales performance.”
Discounters other than Wal-Mart continued to outperform projections as the consumer continues to exhibit substantial fiscal conservativeness.
BJs Wholesales total sales benefited from the consumers recent penchant for pinching pennies, but the wholesalers comps including fuel slid 0.1%, suffering largely from the decline in gas sales. Comps fell short of analysts projections, however, which Thomson Reuters expected to be an improvement of 1.3% excluding gasoline. Comps excluding fuel rose 8.6%.
Expectedly, department stores continued to struggle for the period as discretionary income continues to dry up for the consumer. According to the ISCS report, March same-store sales for department stores sank 10.6%, falling nearly a percentage point month-over-month.
Luxury stores plummeted 20.3% compared to last March, due in large part to the frugal consumer and the Easter holiday shift. Despite escalating efforts to tighten inventory, Saks Inc. saw comps plummet 23.6% in March on weakness from all categories, while Macys narrowly outperformed projections by posting a 9.2% decline for the month. The lone “bright spot” for Lux was Nordstrom, as the high-end retailer outperformed expectations with a 13.5% decline. Year-to-date, Nordstrom has tightened inventory considerably while making concerted efforts to cut costs.
According to a report by the Bloomberg Press, Nordstrom moves fashion off racks at about twice the rate of its rivals, which translates to an average of 62 days inventory in-store. Conversely, Bloomberg reports that Macys and Saks keep inventory in store for 119 days and 140 days, respectively. Nordstroms share price gain this year outpaced the 13% advance of the Standard & Poors 500 Retailing Index.
The ISCS reported comps for apparel retailers fell 18.2% in March. Much of the weakness came from continued weakness from Abercrombie & Fitch, which saw comps drop 34% after analysts projected a fall of 24% for the month.
Looking ahead to April, ICSC Research anticipates that the sales will be flat to up about 1% from the April 2008 – with a net lift from the later Easter and somewhat stronger trend going into the month.
On a pre-recorded conference call, management attributed the decline to negative comps in mens and juniors apparel, accessories, hard goods and boys and girls apparel, which more than offset positive comps in footwear.
“Our comping stores west of Texas, which comped down in the low negative (twenties), continued to post comp-store losses lower than our stores in the South, Midwest and Northeast,” CFO Trevor Lang said on the call. Lang also noted that the Easter shift had an adverse effect on sales.
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The Buckle posted admirable comps as it continues to generate impressive numbers in the mall. Comps for the retailer increased 14.7% as overall sales increases 21.5% to $77.3 million from $63.6 million in the year ago period