U.S. retail sales edge upward during fourth week of March

Warmer weather and an influx of income tax refund dollars pushed retail sales only slightly higher as the bulk of spending activity was canceled out by soaring gasoline prices.

ShopperTrak’s National Retail Sales Estimate (NRSE) reported that U.S. retail sales for the week ending March 27 increased by 1.4% compared to the same week in 2003. While more seasonable spring weather and the arrival of much anticipated income tax refund dollars helped retailers break out of a four week slump, much of the increased spending was offset by soaring gasoline prices that made many consumers reluctant to head to America’s malls.

ShopperTrak also reports that week-over-week sales for the period ending March 27 fell by 8.7% from the week ending March 20.

“Sales are currently being impacted by numerous crosscurrents,” said Michael Niemira, chief economist and director of research for the International Council of Shopping Centers. “While higher gasoline prices hold many consumers back, an influx of tax refund money pushes others out to the stores. These factors have created something of a stalemate for the retail industry and left consumers at a crossroads in their spending habits.”

Developed by ShopperTrak, the NRSE provides a nationwide benchmark of retail sales. It is derived from the U.S. Commerce Department’s GAFO (general merchandise, apparel, furniture, sporting goods, electronics, hobby, books, and other related store sales) statistic, as well as ShopperTrak’s proprietary industry intelligence on shopper movement and sales statistics.