But the firm's store checks also revealed something troubling—heightened spring inventory levels at retailers such as Gap and Victoria's Secret parent L Brands, which reported an 11 percent rise in inventory per square foot. According to Morgan Stanley data, inventory growth for soft retail goods, which includes apparel and accessories, was already about 8 percent higher at the end of fourth quarter 2013.
This excess inventory could lead to further margin depreciation in an already promotional shopping environment—one that is still commonly offering consumers 30 and 40 percent off, Perkins said. The absence of strong fashion trends have made things even tougher for apparel retailers, who have seen consumers' dollars shift toward automobiles, home improvement projects and the sporting goods sector.
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"Overall, while we may see some pent-up demand unleashed in April, which may make trends appear stronger on the surface, we do not see this as ultimately sustainable," Morris said.
What's more, a survey by the National Retail Federation found that the average American celebrating Easter will spend less this year. Although the trade group predicts Easter spending will reach $15.9 billion, the average amount spent by a person feting the holiday is expected to be $137.46—lower than last year's $145.13 average.
Thomson Reuters is forecasting 1.2 percent same-store sales growth among retailers for the first quarter. Although that is higher than last year's 0.2 percent decline, it's below the healthy 3 percent mark, said Jharonne Martis, Thomson Reuters' director of consumer research. The apparel sector is expected to contribute a 0.5 percent decline.
"The news isn't good for apparel, or any other discretionary category, all of which are in the doldrums," said Craig Johnson, president of Customer Growth Partners.
—By CNBC's Krystina Gustafson