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March a solid month for retail

PURCHASE, N.Y. -- Most retail segments showed solid year-over-year retail growth in March, according to MasterCard Advisors SpendingPulse, a macroeconomic report tracking national retail and services sales.

Electronics sales and department stores showed modest gains while luxury and e-commerce recorded strong growth. Some segments of the restaurant sector also showed strength in March.

“Most retail sectors continued to record solid growth year-over-year, similar to February, although we’re not seeing an acceleration of momentum from February to March,” said Michael McNamara, VP research and analysis, MasterCard Advisors SpendingPulse. The lack of increased momentum in some sectors could be due to calendar shifts, given that Easter falls very late this year.”

Gasoline prices remain a concern as the average price continues to be above $3.50 a gallon,’ McNamara said.

“Compared to March 2010, we’re seeing drivers pump less gasoline,” he said. “Based on what we’ve observed in the last three to four years, high gasoline prices typically result in consumers consolidating shopping trips, shopping closer to home, and making fewer trips to the brick and mortar locations as we get to Saturday. On the other hand, we’ve seen the e-commerce channel benefitting somewhat from this trend.”

Here are details of some specific sectors for March 2011:

  • Total apparel sales recorded their eighth consecutive year-over-year sales gains, increasing by 4.4% year-over-year. Nevertheless, March’s gain is approximately half of the average growth recorded between September 2010 and February 2011. The only sub-sector posting a loss was footwear, with sales declining 1.6%. The Easter calendar shift may have limited the year-over-year growth in the men’s and women’s apparel segments.

  • The furniture sector posted a modest increase of 2.4%, its fifth consecutive month of positive growth.

  • E-commerce continued to grow in double digits, highlighting the continued strength in online sales. The sector posted its fifth consecutive month of double-digit growth, rising by 16.1%, higher than February’s 13.2% increase.

  • The SpendingPulse Luxury Index, which measures sales at high-end restaurants, food stores, department stores and general apparel categories, was up 8.5%, the largest year-over-year increase since December 2010, and the sixth consecutive month of growth.