May 14, 2010, 5:57 PM

Retail sales spring back in March and April

Retailers often look at March and April together to account for the year-to-year shift in the timing of the Easter holiday. The news is much better this year: Retail sales were up 5.6% in March and April this year over 2009.

Retailers often look at March and April together to account for the year-to-year shift in the Easter holiday. The news is much better this year: Retail sales were up 5.6% in March and April this year over 2009, according to the National Retail Federation, an industry trade group.

April sales increased 4.6% over April 2009, and 0.5% seasonally adjusted over March, NRF says. NRF’s figures exclude sales of autos, gasoline and restaurant meals. Including those categories, the U.S. Commerce Department reported this week that total retail sales increased 9.3% unadjusted in April over last year and 0.4% seasonally adjusted over March. The Commerce Department will report first quarter e-commerce sales Tuesday.

“The slow road to recovery is turning into a sprint as retailers experienced a nice bounce in April,” says NRF president and CEO Matt Shay. “But maintaining this sales momentum will be challenging. Until our economy begins to create jobs and reduce unemployment, the breadth and sustainability of this recovery remains uncertain.”

“Spring shopping and seasonal weather helped boost sales last month,” says Rosalind Wells, NRF’s chief economist. “Spending on discretionary items had fallen by the wayside these last few years and we are encouraged to see consumers dipping into that pot once again.”

Here are April reports for several retail categories, with seasonally adjusted month-over-month percentage change followed by unadjusted year-over-year change:

  • Building materials and garden equipment: 6.9%, 14.1%
  • Health and personal care: 0.9%, 3.3%
  • Clothing and accessories: -1.0%, 5.4%
  • Electronics and appliances: -0.4%, 4.4%

Separately, ShopperTrak, which tracks sales and foot traffic at shopping malls and major retail stores, reports that April sales increased 2.3% while foot traffic declined 7.1%, a reflection of an early Easter moving holiday shopping to March. Bill Martin, co-founder of ShopperTrak, also says that fits with a trend that’s emerged since the holiday shopping season, “which is savvy consumers continue to shop more economically, planning fewer shopping trips with a larger spend during each visit—proving the consumer is willing to spend in this economy.”

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