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March decline at Target no surprise

Target had forecast a mid-single decline in its March same-store sales, so the 5.5% decline it reported last week was no surprise. The late arrival of Easter is messing with retailers’ sales comparisons, so even though March was a down month for Target, it could have been worse as the comparison with the prior year was a lofty 10.3%. Therefore, last month’s 5.5% decline is a victory of sorts, and March results for retailers overall were better than expected. Now comes the tricky party as Target is on the hook to produce a mid-teems comps gain following last April’s 5.9% decrease.

“March comparable-store sales were in line with our expectations, reflecting the change in Easter timing in 2011. Our stores are well-prepared for the upcoming Easter season, and we continue to expect a mid-teens increase in Target’s April comparable-store sales,” said Target chairman, president and CEO Gregg Steinhafel.

During March, the sales store was much the same as it has been in prior months with the company reporting strength in grocery, health care, beauty and other household essentials, which increased in the low- to mid-single digits. Comps in apparel and home area decreased in the high single-digit range while hardline comps decreased in the low double-digit range.

However, with Easter falling on April 24 this year, versus April 4 last year, March sales in categories related to the holiday were understandably impacted as shoppers tend to delay purchases closer to their time of need. For example, Target said the Easter impact was particularly meaningful for candy within the grocery area, across multiple categories in apparel, toys and music, movies and books and seasonal categories in home.

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