According to store checks by Deutsche Bank analyst Paul Trussell, Penney's deals included a 14-day Easter sale and a cash reward promotion. That compares to three separate three-day Easter sales in April last year, he said.
At Macy's, the department store introduced several supplementary promotions, while continuing with its VIP and spring break sales.
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And at Nordstrom, the message for its men's shop was simple: "More. Markdowns."
"Our channel checks show that [department] stores cleared inventory after a slow start to [the first quarter] and are successfully driving traffic with discounting, albeit with help from the earlier Easter," Trussell wrote in a note to investors.
Discounts at Wal-Mart and Target were relatively flat year over year, Trussell said. And Janney Capital Markets analyst Adrienne Yih said the promotional cadence remained flat year-over-year for her coverage universe, which includes apparel retailers including Chico's and Express.