Retailers Report Sluggish Sales in March

New York Most retailers reported sluggish sales in March when consumers limited their shopping to food and other essentials amid the slowing economy. The earliest Easter in 95 years and chilly weather also put a damper on sales.

Shoppers remained focused on buying basics at discounters and wholesale clubs and snubbed mall-based chains for clothing and other discretionary purchases, according to the Associated Press.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. was among the best performers, reporting a 0.7% gain in same-store sales. Wal-Mart said that food and consumables, and electronics such as video games and digital cameras sold well. But cold weather hurt apparel, except for basic items. Home furnishings continued to be weak.

Target’s March same-store sales fell 4.4%, more than analysts expected. Lower traffic due to the loss of one day of sales on Easter hurt results, according to Target.

Another bright spot amid the dreary results were warehouse club operators Costco Wholesale Corp. and BJ's Wholesale Club. Their March sales were stronger than expected.

Many other retailers reported sales declines that were larger than expected, including Limited Brands, Pacific Sunwear of California Inc. and Wet Seal Inc.

Abercrombie & Fitch said its same-store sales fell a greater-than-expected 10% in March, citing the early Easter. Gap's same-store sales plunged 18% in March, hurt by weak sales in its Old Navy women's clothes and lower promotions at its namesake brand.

Limited Brands reported an 8% drop in sales, larger than the 7.2% decline that analysts had expected.

Among department stores, Saks Inc. said Thursday its same-store sales fell 2.9% in March, missing Wall Street analysts' prediction that comparable sales would rise for the month. J.C. Penney posted a larger-than-expected 12.3% sales decline. The retailer had warned late last month that same-store sales would be down at least 10% amid a souring economy.

Kohl's Corp. said Thursday its same-store sales fell 15.5% in March and cut its first-quarter profit guidance.