MasterCard Advisors’ SpendingPulse, a report that tracks retail spending, shows that most retail sectors experienced year over year growth in March, but the rate of growth slowed, due to a late Easter and concerns about rising gas prices. “The growth rate came down in March, but it didn’t come down as much as we thought it would,” says Michael McNamara, VP for research and analysis for SpendingPulse. While rising gas prices have resulted in some changes in consumer behavior, such as driving less and making fewer trips to brick and mortar locations, that does not appear to have affected discretionary spending just yet, McNamara says. “With overall spending, it doesn’t look as though higher gas prices are having too much of a negative impact,” he adds. What’s more, some areas of retail spending, like ecommerce, can benefit from rising gas prices, McNamara notes. In fact, online sales continued to show double digit growth, rising 16.1 percent, the highest rate seen since December 2010. March was the sector’s fifth consecutive month of double digit growth.
“Internet sales and some retailers are getting some reprieve,” McNamara says. Sales of luxury items, including high-end apparel, department stores, food stores and restaurants (but not jewelry), grew 8.5 percent compared to March 2010. McNamara says the luxury sector tends to track trends in the financial market. “When you see the stock market do well, that sends a positive echo through luxury retail,” he adds. Apparel sales also posted gains, with total apparel sales increasing 4.4 percent, and sales of children’s wear stayed above 10 percent.