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Same Store Sales: A Case of Rebate Check And Easter "Inflation"?

April 2008 Calendar
April 2008 Calendar

A bright but brief relief to retailers will come tomorrow in same store sales figures. The International Council of Shopping Centers is predicting the strongest performance since February.

But don’t get too excited--it's all relative. The calendar shift and rebate checks are giving April somewhat “inflated” results.

How’s that? Last April was a weak one because it included a slow shopping period post-Easter. This year, Easter fell in March which means that this April we didn’t have to digest that weak shopping period. The bottom line: the year over year comparison is an easy one this time thanks to a calendar shift.

What should be interesting is what retailers say about the rebate check payouts and whether the stimulus package truly is impacting results. While shoppers didn’t receive the checks until the beginning of May (some are in the mail now), consumers may have spent some of that money before receiving the checks.

Consumer psychology is such that the boost of confidence from ‘free money’ may motivate people to spend some if not all of that extra cash. Analyst Chuck Grom of JP Morgan says he thinks that we’re already seeing that sales bump from rebate checks.

Keep these two factors in mind when reading same store sales results tomorrow. According to tracking by Mastercard Spending Pulse expect sales of apparel, footwear, electronics and luxury items to be stronger than last year.

While women are buying less clothing (-.2%), men bought 6.4% more clothing this April than they did last year. Footwear is up a surprising 7%. Maybe that has something to do with the fashion cycle or perhaps women are choosing to use shoes as a refresher to their wardrobe instead of opting for whole new outfits.

The best way to read sales results would be to combine March and April for a more complete understanding of what’s going on with consumers.

One loud voice of caution: Sears’ Chairman and ESL Investment head Eddie Lampert. He told Sears shareholders on Mondaythat he hasn’t seen any improvement so far in the consumer economy and does not forecast a turnaround in the economy during this year.

Questions? Comments? retaildetail@cnbc.com