Weather in February was once again a roadblock for retailers, who said sales figures for the month missed already modest expectations.
One gauge from Thomson Reuters found that same-store sales rose 1.8% last month, falling short of a projected 2.8% rise at stores open a year or longer.
Without the effect of drugstores, retailers turned in a 0.3% sales increase, the worst showing since a 2.4% decrease in August 2009. Analysts had expected a 1.9% boost.
Some segments, however, showed surprising health, or at least the promise of it. The clothing sector, not including Gap, beat estimates by swelling 1.3%. Teen apparel, while still struggling, turned in a 0.1% sales decline that beat forecasts.
Companies such as Zumiez beat predictions after a tough January, but Zumiez noted that although more store visits and post-holiday clearances helped lift sales, margins were tightening.
Thomson Reuters said that "retailers were severely affected by bad weather" in the first two weeks of February but were buoyed by improving temperatures and the arrival of tax refunds as the month progressed.
Another measure from Retail Metrics Inc. had sales at reporting retailers up 2.7% Thursday morning, with the inclusion of Gap expected to push the figure down to 2.6%.
Sales ticked up 1.7% without factoring in drugstores, according to Retail Metrics.
Extreme climate fluctuations caused many retailers to close stores, cut back opening hours or offer discounts to boost lagging demand for spring clothes, executives have said in recent weeks.
Retail analytics firm Euclid reached the same conclusion. Researchers there found that foot traffic in stores declined 3% last month from February 2013.
The best shopping day of the month was Monday, Feb. 24, when shoppers stayed in stores for more than 25 minutes on average. The worst day for retailers came Wednesday, Feb. 19, in the post-Presidents Day slowdown.
And uncooperative weather and the growing convenience of e-commerce drove more Valentine's Day purchasing online, resulting in a 10% drop in in-store visits.
"Overall, retailers did well to keep shoppers engaged in physical stores during a month that typically sees less interest in robust browsing, yet consumers kept nonessential trips to a minimum during spells of cold weather," Euclid concluded.
Retailers will face difficult comparisons in March to the same month in 2013, when Easter fell on March 31. The holiday — "a catalyst for spring family apparel demand" — lands on April 20, "shifting that demand," according to a statement from the International Council of Shopping Centers. The trade group said it anticipates a 3% same-store sales boost in March.
"A later Easter is actually more favorable on a net basis for driving sales, largely because it is warmer, which is a reason to expect even stronger sales in April," said Michael P. Niemira, the group's chief economist.