Overall retail sales growth was nothing to get excited about in April, but apparel merchants evidently took advantage of the long-awaited spring weather and late Easter, both of which buoyed sales in apparel-centric stores last month.
Total retail sales rose by a seasonally adjusted 3.5%, according to data released this week by the U.S. Department of Commerce. Sales were below March’s 4 percent increase, but the second highest increase in the past five months. Once again, automobile dealers reaped most of the benefit, since after excluding cars from the mix, retail sales only increased by 1.5%.
Total retail inventory rose by 3.7% in March, the most recent month for which inventory data are available, its smallest monthly increase in a year.
The department, chain and discount store sector, which includes Macy’s, Sears, J.C. Penney, Walmart and others, suffered its 25th straight decline, with sales down by 1.1%, their smallest drop since August 2012. Big store inventory dropped by 4.3%, causing the inventory-to-sales ratio in the channel to decline slightly.
After three consecutive months of declines, apparel specialty store sales growth edged into positive territory with a 1.3% increase. This sector, which includes brands like Gap, J.Crew and Ann Taylor, continued to fare better than department and discount stores, a trend that is expected to continue through this year as consumers gravitate toward their easy-to-navigate stores and e-commerce sites. Specialty store inventories dipped 2.2% in March, and the sales to inventory ratio also edged down slightly.
Sales at the combined department, chain, discount and apparel specialty retail sectors, a traditionally reliable barometer of total apparel sales, rose negligibly in April on a 12-month smoothed basis. March inventories for the combined sectors fell by 3 percent, slightly less than February’s 3.5% drop.