U.S. chains’ sales seen down but not dead in March

* U.S. March same-store sales expected to fall 0.7 pct

* Late Easter, inflation likely trimmed sales

CHICAGO, April 7 (Reuters) – March is not looking to be as
bad as expected for U.S. retailers, at least as far as initial
sales reports show.

U.S. retailers are likely to show a drop in March same-store
sales, hurt by Easter falling three weeks later than last year,
which delays some spring clothing purchases.

Chilly weather and rising inflation were also expected to
hurt discretionary purchases.

But retailers that report their monthly sales earlier than
most, including drugstore operator Walgreen Co and teen
apparel retailers Hot Topic Inc and Zumiez Inc
, reported better than-expected sales for the month.
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Sales at stores open at least a year, or same-store sales,
are expected to fall 0.7 percent when tallying results from 25
retailers, according to Thomson Reuters.

With Easter falling on April 24 this year, 20 days later
than in 2010, the bulk of sales of spring clothing, candy and
other goods are expected to be delayed until April.
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At the same time, shoppers have already started to pay more
for groceries and gasoline, reducing the amount left for
discretionary purchases.

Craig Johnson, president of Customer Growth Partners, said
visits to stores showed the “first major impact of inflation on
retail spending, particularly discretionary spend, in many
years.”

While unemployment remains high, it has edged down in recent
months.

“This March I spent more than last March because I was
searching for a job last March,” said Jane Marcinkiewicz, a
37-year-old mother of two from New York’s Harlem neighborhood,
who works part-time at a department store.

Figures being released by companies this week will not paint
the full picture of the consumer economy as the retailers that
still issue monthly sales figures account for only 10 percent of
total U.S. retail sales, Johnson noted.

Major retailers such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc , Home
Depot Inc and large grocers do not issue monthly sales
reports and several apparel chains recently abandoned the
practice as well.

Walgreen Co, one of the largest companies that still issues
monthly sales reports, said on Tuesday that its March same-store
sales rose 3 percent, with sales of general merchandise beating
expectations.
(Reporting by Jessica Wohl and Brad Dorfman in Chicago and
Dhanya Skariachan in New York; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)

U.S. chains’ sales seen down but not dead in March