If the mall seemed less crowded than usual during the Easter season, it probably wasn't your imagination. Most of the country's major retailers reported slow sales in March. Target, JCPenney, Saks, and Limited Brands (which operates Victoria's Secret and Bath & Body Works) all took hits compared with a year earlier. Gap was perhaps the biggest sore spot. Its same-store sales declined 18 percent.
Not everyone was hurting, though. Wal-Mart posted a 0.7 percent year-over-year sales increase and boosted its earnings forecast, while Costco reported a 7 percent rise. In a weaker economy, the discounters are king.