Instead of shopping for t-shirts, shorts and skirts, shoppers were shoveling snow, and bundling up in the month of March.
Unseasonably cool weather, weak employment numbers, and a payroll tax increase kept customers out of the stores.
“The March selling season faced headwinds from unfavorable weather in most of the country,” said Ike Boruchow, analyst for brokerage firm Sterne Agee.
This March was the coldest in seven years, the wintry weather depressed sales of spring items such as home and garden, and apparel sales.
March retail sales numbers are not expected to be nearly as strong as the 1.1 percent increase in February, which was a five-month high.
The jobs numbers released last week, renewed fears of a tepid economic recovery; payrolls grew by only 88,000 in the month of March.
“The jobs numbers were a jolt,” said Brian Sommer analyst at digital marketing firm e-consultancy. “People are cash strapped and insecure, they are not going to spend unless they have a good reason.”
Consumer confidence dropped sharply in the month of March, reversing February’s gains according to The Conference Board, which tracks the consumer confidence index. The month’s retreat was driven primarily by a sharp decline in expectations and an increase in pessimism.
Analysts expect sales in April to improve as the weather warms up and retailers roll out colorful spring apparel. Retailer’s hope that pent up demand for spring apparel and home goods prove to be a boon to retailers.
One of the few bright spots for consumers in the month of March was lower gas prices.
“The national average price of gasoline decreased during March for the first time in 10 years,” said AAA spokesman Avery Ashe in a press release. “Gas prices now average nearly 30 cents per gallon less than a year ago.
The advent of lower gas prices is a reverse of the month of February when gas prices were up and gas stations experienced a five percent increase in sales.
Although March’s sales numbers are expected to disappoint, economists have maintained a positive outlook for the future.
“We do expect growth in the coming months as better weather and stronger economic situations should prompt spending,” said Alejandro Vargas, analyst at BBVA Compass “Ideally, employment growth and stronger corporate profits will help drive optimism, and help boost retail driven sales.”
Retail sales are followed closely because consumer spending represents a significant part of the overall economy.
Angela Johnson, Manhattan