Retailers report strong March sales as winter ebbs

March was a good month for retailers spurred on by warmer weather and pent-up demand from consumers wanting to shake off the winter blues. The National Retail Federation reported a 1.6% increase in March sales compared to a year ago. These sales exclude autos, fuel and restaurants.

“Consumers shed their winter coats last month for fresh, spring merchandise,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said. “Retail sales increased in most categories and sectors as consumers took to stores to purchase new spring attire and home furnishings in hopeful expectation of warmer weather. Sales should continue to remain positive this spring with the approach of Easter and expected tax refunds.”

The U.S. Census Bureau data, which includes automobiles, gas stations and restaurants rose 1.1% from the prior month to $433.9 billion. This was the biggest increase since 2012. Sales rose a whopping 3.8% from a year ago, according to the commerce department.

“Improving economic conditions and consumer confidence should push consumers to return to spending habits this spring,” NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said.

He said March was a rebounding month after tepid sales in January and February. Wal-Mart said recently that its sales also bounced back in March after a roughly January and February. That said, the retail giant expects negative to flat same store comparable sales for this quarter which ends April 30.

Segment Sales Increases (year-over-year)
• Building material and garden equipment sales increased 6.2%
• Clothing and accessories sales decreased 2.3%
• Electronics and appliance sales decreased 2%
• Furniture and home furnishing sales increased 1%
• General merchandise sales decreased 0.2%
• Health and personal care sales increased 4%
• Online retailers’ sales increased 8%
• Sporting goods, hobby, book and music sales decreased 5.5%