First Data Corporation has released its First Data SpendTrend analysis for March 1, 2014, through March 31, 2014, compared to March 2, 2013, through April 1, 2013. SpendTrend tracks 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 serviced by First Data.
Dollar volume growth remained positive at 2.1 percent, but slipped from February's growth of 2.4 percent. The yearly comparison was negatively impacted by the later Easter (April 20 this year compared to March 31 last 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. Hotel and Travel spending growth of 6.6 percent and 5.5 percent remained strong and gained traction from last month's growth of 5.4 percent and 3.3 percent due to an increase in spring and summer travel plans. Spending growth of -3.6 percent at Gas Stations jumped from February’s growth of -6.6 percent as the year-over-year gas discount shrunk, which also contributed to the growth.
Retail spending growth and transaction growth of -0.9 percent and -1.8 percent marched lower versus February's growth of -0.3 percent and -0.4 percent 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 percent as these merchants were clearly impacted by the later Easter timing. However, spending growth at Nonstore retailers and Building Material & Supply Dealers of 4.1 percent and 4.3 percent remained healthy and inched up from last month's growth of 2.6 percent and 3.6 percent 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 percent, in-line with February's growth. Lower year-over-year gas prices again subdued the overall growth as average ticket values at Gas Stations were down -4.1 percent, which marked the eighth-consecutive month of negative growth. Despite rising food prices tied to California’s drought, Food & Beverage average ticket growth of -0.4 percent fell from February’s growth of 1.0 percent as weather started to normalize and shoppers pulled back on stocking up with necessities. Average ticket growth at Travel and Hotel merchants jumped to 1.0 percent and 2.8 percent compared to -0.8 percent and 1.7 percent last month as shoppers' booked more travel plans and business travel rallied.
"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, SVP, 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."