Easter Shopping Boosted March Sales

Retail sales for March faced some obstacles this year, but they came in better than expected.

Ken Perkins, president of Boston-based Retail Metrics, announced that U.S. retail sales rose 8.1 percent at the retailers followed by his company after he initially forecast that sales would rise only 5.5 percent.

Cold weather in March across much of the United States was bad news for retailers selling Spring clothes, Perkins said, but an early Easter came to the rescue. This year, Easter was celebrated on April 1, compared to last year, when it took place on April 16.

“The weather was a headwind, but the holiday was a stronger tailwind,” said Jeff Van Sinderen, an analyst for financial services firm B. Riley FBR He forecast that April numbers will decline because many shoppers wrapped up their shopping in March. Many retailers consider Easter business to be so significant to March and April sales that they encourage investors to count both months’ results together.

One of the big winners for March sales was Zumiez Inc., the mall-based action-sports retail chain. Its same-store sales increased 12.6 percent in March. Retail Metrics forecasted that Zumiez’s sales would rise 4.2 percent. Perkins noted that March results came at the end of 13 months of consecutive positive monthly comp gains.

Long-suffering value retailer Cato Corp. posted a 6 percent jump in March. John Cato, the retailer’s chairman, president and chief executive officer, forecast that the holiday calendar shift would take away from April sales. “We expect April same-store sales to be in the high, negative single digits and the combined two months’ same-store sales to be in the low negative single digits,” he said in a statement.

L Brands, the parent company of Victoria’s Secret, reported a 4 percent increase in same-store sales. Denim-focused retailer The Buckle posted a dip in same-store sales, -1.1 percent, for March.