Target said Wednesday that it was tripped up by the same conditions in the spring quarter that hurt its department and apparel store counterparts: The consumer, despite a relatively healthy economy, still wasn’t spending big at the big-box retailer.

Target reported a 1.2 percent increase in comparable sales, a measure of digital sales and sales at stores open more than a year. While that growth reflected an uptick in foot traffic to its stores, it was also the slowest year-over-year growth it has seen on that key metric in the past six quarters. And it now says it is expecting a gloomy second quarter, with comparable sales that could be down as much as 2 percent.

The retailer’s stock was down 10 percent in early trading.

On a conference call with reporters Wednesday morning, chief executive Brian Cornell said the spring quarter was marked by volatility and unevenness. He said sales slowed down noticeably after Easter, a similar pattern to what Macy’s and Kohl’s reported seeing during the season. Target also saw patchy results across different geographies, with the West and Midwest performing relatively well and the Northeast struggling.

“It’s been a very wet and cold start to the year in the Northeast, and so it’s been reflected in our sales,” Cornell said.

Meanwhile, the retailer said the changes it is making in its grocery aisles to incorporate more fresh food and organics created some speed bumps. While customers reacted favorable to the products, they were initially confused about navigating the revamped aisles and struggled to find the items they were looking for.


Even among the kinds of trips shoppers were making to the store, Target saw variation.

“While guests were generally consistent with their larger stock-up runs, we saw a slowdown in growth in smaller, convenience trips,” Cornell said.

Still, there were some reasons for optimism about the chain in the first quarter results. Its apparel sales were up “2 to 3 percent,” Cornell said, with women’s ready-to-wear standing out as a particularly strongly performing area.

Given that the likes of Macy’s and Gap had such a challenging season selling clothes, this might be a signal that Target is outmaneuvering some of its competitors in this category. Sales growth in its so-called “signature categories,” the ones Cornell has made a centerpiece of his turnaround plan, were three times better than the company average. (These departments include style, baby, kids and wellness.)

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