March decline at Target no surprise

MINNEAPOLIS -- Same-store sales at Target declined 5.5% during March, in line with the company’s expectations for a down month due to the late arrival of Easter. The March decline is expected to be offset by strength in April with comps forecast to be in the teens.

“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.

Last year Easter fell very early in April, and the sales situation was reversed, as Target produced a 10.3% comp increase in March followed by a 5.9% decrease in April.

With Easter falling on April 24 this year, versus April 4 last year, 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.

As for March results, the story 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.