March Retail Sales Disappoint as Retailers Wrap up First Quarter, According to NRF

everal months of stronger-than-expected retail sales provided hope that the industry was poised to bounce back, but March retail sales demonstrate that the industry is continuing to struggle. According to the National Retail Federation, retail industry sales for March (which exclude automobiles, gas stations, and restaurants) decreased 0.6 percent seasonally adjusted from February and dropped 3.7 percent unadjusted over last year.
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Washington – Several months of stronger-than-expected retail sales provided hope that the industry was poised to bounce back, but March retail sales demonstrate that the industry is continuing to struggle. According to the National Retail Federation, retail industry sales for March (which exclude automobiles, gas stations, and restaurants) decreased 0.6 percent seasonally adjusted from February and dropped 3.7 percent unadjusted over last year.

March retail sales released today by the U.S. Commerce Department show total retail sales (which include non-general merchandise categories such as autos, gasoline stations and restaurants) decreased 1.1 percent seasonally adjusted over February and decreased 10.6 percent unadjusted year-over-year. Retail industry sales for February were revised upward, increasing 0.3% instead of dipping 0.1% as originally reported.

“A chilly start to spring and a late Easter combined for dreary March sales,” said Rosalind Wells, Chief Economist for NRF. “To compensate for the Easter shift, retailers typically look at March and April together to get a better look at how their stores performed. Easter should give a much-needed boost to April sales.”

One of the only bright spots in March came from health and personal care stores, whose sales increased 0.4 percent seasonally adjusted over last month and 3.5 percent unadjusted over last year. Food and beverage stores sales also increased 0.5 percent seasonally adjusted month-to-month but decreased 1.8 percent unadjusted year-over-year.

The shift in Easter sales also played a role in consumer purchases of clothing and clothing accessories. Sales at those stores decreased 1.8 percent seasonally adjusted from February and decreased 8.7 percent unadjusted over March 2008. Electronics and appliance stores sales decreased 5.9 percent seasonally adjusted month-to-month and decreased 10.0 percent unadjusted year-over-year. Sales at sporting goods, hobby, book and music stores also decreased 0.9 percent seasonally adjusted over last month and decreased 3.0 percent unadjusted over last year.

The National Retail Federation is the world's largest retail trade association, with membership that comprises all retail formats and channels of distribution including department, specialty, discount, catalog, Internet, independent stores, chain restaurants, drug stores and grocery stores as well as the industry's key trading partners of retail goods and services. NRF represents an industry with more than 1.6 million U.S. retail establishments, more than 24 million employees - about one in five American workers - and 2008 sales of $4.6 trillion. As the industry umbrella group, NRF also represents more than 100 state, national and international retail associations. www.nrf.com.

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