Shoppers hit the malls in March and provided a boost for the nation's retailers, a good sign for consumer spending this spring despite continuing worries about rising gas prices.
Major chain stores posted a healthy 4.3% sales increase in March compared with the same month a year earlier, beating analysts' expectations of a more modest 3.5% rise. Discounters, teen retailers and apparel sellers all posted healthy sales increases, according to Thomson Reuters' tally of 20 retailers.
"Overall it was a pretty decent month," said Judith Russell, editor of the Robin Report, a retail industry publication. "Initial spring sales were pretty good, and the weather helped motivate a lot of people to shop for warm weather clothes."
Top performers were a mixture of high- and low-end stores. Action-sports chain Zumiez Inc. led the way with a 14.1% bump. Benefiting from a continuing thrifty mindset, off-price retailers Ross Stores Inc. and TJX Cos. both reported a strong 10% increase. Luxury retailer Nordstrom Inc. saw sales rise 8.6%. Gap Inc., which has been struggling in the past year, beat expectations with a robust 8% jump.