Spring Finally Arrives with $13 Billion in Easter Shopping Expected

Expect more gifts and candy at this year's egg hunt; new surveys show Easter sales are off to a strong start and could lift March retail totals.

Consumers will spend $13.03 billion for Easter gear this year, slightly more than in 2009, laying out $118.60 per person, up from $116.59 last year, according to a poll from the National Retail Federation.

Spending on most items will stay the same as last year, but consumers will increase their budgets for gifts and candy. Purchases of gifts will rise to $18.16 per person from $17.30 in 2009, and candy outlays will rise to $17.29 per person from $16.55 last year.

But the biggest expense, as in past years, will be food ($37.45 per person this year) and clothing ($19.03).

"With signs of spring popping up everywhere, shoppers are eager to get their hands on bright, colorful Easter merchandise," said a statement from NRF CEO Tracy Mullin. "Warmer weather and special holiday promotions are the perfect mix to get people out of their homes and into stores as spring approaches."

An Early Easter and Warmer Weather, Finally

Most merchants have restocked with spring merchandise after the post-holiday sales. An early Easter will help boost March sales. Easter falls on April 4 this year, a week earlier than the April 12 date in 2009, which means most of the sales impact of the holiday will fall in the month of March.

Unexpectedly strong sales in February could indicate that shoppers are ready to begin spending more in stores. But as the NRF poll showed, shoppers are still being careful with their money; 64.8% plan to do their Easter shopping at discount stores.

The sales tallies for the first week of March showed pent-up demand among shoppers who were home-bound during record snowstorms; totals for that week showed the biggest surge in over two years.

And tallies for the second week point to continuing momentum, despite the storms and flooding that hit the Northeast during the past weekend. Sales for the week ended March 13 were 0.4% lower than the week before, but up 3.2% from the same time last year, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers.

"Despite the wrath of Mother Nature in the Northeast, consumers were not deterred in unleashing a little of their own pent-up demand, especially early in the week -- which helped to offset the weekend weather drag on sales," wrote Michael Niemira, ICSC's chief economist, in his report. The last two weeks of the month will likely show enough of a lift to bring the month's total to an increase of 3% to 3.5% above last year, he estimates.