Clothing and shoes were a bright spot in an otherwise tepid April, which was chilled by an early Easter as well as abnormally low temperatures in key markets. In fact, the apparel sector has reported dramatic growth — $20 billion on a year-over-year basis — so it isn’t surprising that comps flexed muscle at high-end department stores and specialty retailers.
For example, the Neiman Marcus Group continued its run with a 14 percent gain while Nordstrom posted a 10 percent increase. Saks Fifth Avenue Enterprises reported a 4.3 percent gain, which was lower than March due to a shift in the retailer’s marketing activity.
Consumer spending on apparel and fashion footwear jumped 7.3 percent to $326.9 billion in the first quarter of this year from $304.8 billion in the same period last year, according to the latest quarterly data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce. Expenditures on the segment were up 11.6 percent compared with the first quarter of 2000.
While pent-up demand may help explain part of that increase, Richard Hastings, a credit economist with Bernard Sands, said it has more to do with the strength of the affluent consumer. “In this economy there’s a class of consumer now immune to inflation associated with higher grocery prices or higher gas prices,” said Hastings.
In keeping with trends, the high-end department store channel blazed its own trail during April, with most besting comp estimates for the month. Misfires from key moderate department store players, May Department Stores and Kohl’s in particular, weighed down the channel.
Cool spring weather in the Northeast, rising gas prices and anticipation of a rise in interest rates had an impact on overall results. The Goldman Sachs Retail Comparable-Store Sales index showed a 3.9 percent gain in April, compared with a 6.8 percent gain reported in March.
Still, of the 50 retailers tracked by WWD, 36 posted higher numbers. The specialty store segment took the lead, posting an average comp increase of 4.8 percent for the month, compared with a boost of 6.2 percent reported in March. Mass merchants recorded an average gain of 3.9 percent, down from an 8.2 percent gain in the previous month. Buoyed by its high-end cohorts, the department store channel posted a 1.7 percent gain, down from 8 percent.