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First Data: March growth remains positive, but Easter shift takes toll

Atlanta -- Dollar year-over-year volume growth during the month of March 2014 remained positive at 2.1%, but slipped from February’s growth of 2.4%, according to the First Data Corp. SpendTrend report. The report, which analyzes same-store point-of-sale data by credit, signature debit, PIN debit, EBT, closed-loop prepaid cards and checks from nearly four million U.S. merchant locations, found that the yearly comparison was negatively impacted by the later Easter (April 20 this year, compared to March 31 the prior year), which shifted holiday-related spending into April.

The cold weather that plagued much of the country started to loosen its frigid grip at the end of the month and helped to support foot traffic. Higher year-over-year tax refund values improved consumer confidence and job market gains also supported the growth.

Retail spending growth and transaction growth of -0.9% and -1.8% were lower than February’s growth of -0.3% and -0.4% as the Easter shift pushed holiday retail purchases and related foot-traffic into April, which also made for tough year-over-year comparisons.

General merchandise stores saw spending growth fall into negative territory for the first time since November 2013 at -1.3%, as First Data analysis indicates these retailers were clearly impacted by the later Easter timing. However, spending growth at non-store retailers and building material & supply dealers of 4.1% and 4.3% remained healthy and inched up from the prior month’s growth of 2.6% and 3.6% which helped to offset the slowdown. Building material & supply dealers spending growth gained momentum across much of the country at the end of the month as warmer weather spurred sales of home and garden supplies.

Average ticket growth was 0.2%, in-line with February’s growth. Despite rising food prices tied to California’s drought, food & beverage average ticket growth of -0.4% fell from February’s growth of 1% as weather started to normalize and shoppers pulled back on stocking up with necessities.

Looking at different types of payment, credit collar volume grew 2.9% year-over-year in March, while signature debit volume rose 3.4%, PIN debit increased 1.1%, check volume shrank 4.9% and prepaid volume slipped 5.6%.

“Despite the Easter shift to April this year, which negatively impacted year-over-year growth comparisons, spending growth in March remained healthy and positive,” said Krish Mantripragada, senior VP, information and analytics solutions, First Data. “Gains in consumer confidence and the labor market indicate that economic prospects are brightening. We also saw credit spending growth decelerate slightly compared to prior months as higher year-over-year tax refund values deposited into bank accounts spurred debit usage over credit, and the later Easter pushed holiday-related discretionary spending out of March and into April.”

© 2014