Retail Sales Spring Ahead in March

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Retail sales swung from a one percent decline in February, which many attributed to unseasonably cold temperatures, to an increase in March, helped by the long-awaited arrival of spring weather in many regions of the country.

According to data released Tuesday by the Commerce Department, total retail sales increased by 0.9% in March compared to February. On a 12-month smoothed basis, sales were flat. Year-over-year, retail sales rose by 1.3% from March 2014, to $441 billion.

According to Big Data supplier RetailNext, although fewer people visited stores than last year, those who did tended to buy more. Brick-and-mortar store traffic dropped by 8.2% in March compared to the same month last year, average transaction value rose by 3.5%, and sales per shopper jumped by 5.8%. Retail sales were strongest in the last week of the month. Warm weather drove many people into stores looking for seasonal merchandise. Store traffic declined in all key regions of the county in the month, with the biggest declines in the South and Northeast.

March 7 was the biggest individual sales and traffic day of the month, while March 3 was the slowest.

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The Commerce Department also reported that total retail inventory increased by 2.5% percent in February, the most recent month for which that measure is available, resulting in a slight rise in the inventory-to-sales ratio. 

Auto sales bounced back in the month, rising by 4.8%, compared to flat growth in February. Excluding autos, retail sales dropped by 1.1% on a smoothed basis.

Department, chain and discount stores saw sales drop by 1.5% on a smoothed basis, a big improvement over February’s decline of more than 4 percent.

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Apparel specialty stores recovered nicely from their flat performance in February to turn in a 2.1% increase in March, no doubt helped by the arrival of spring fashions. The combined department and specialty sector saw a 0.7% increase in sales on a 12-month smoothed basis, up from a 1.6% decline in the prior month.

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