retail sales weekend before christmas
Steven Senne/AP
By Phil Wahba

ELMHURST, N.Y. -- U.S. consumers shopped less on the final weekend before Christmas despite deeper discounts, the latest sign of how difficult a season this is turning out to be for retailers.

Shoppers also showed signs they will do more of their spending after Dec. 25 than they did in the same period last year in the hopes of snagging even more deals.

"We expect the next two weeks to pick up a lot of the slack," Topeka Capital Markets analyst Dorothy Lakner wrote in a note.

Analytics firm RetailNext estimated Sunday that U.S. retail sales fell by a mid-single-digit percentage at brick-and-mortar stores on Friday and Saturday, two of the four most important shopping days of the season, compared with the same days last year.

That doesn't include online sales, which have been strong.

The number of visits to stores fell 7 percent on Friday and Saturday, RetailNext said.

Analysts have said this is turning out to be the most competitive holiday season since the recession, forcing retailers to ramp up the promotions.
The season generates 30 percent of sales and 40 percent of profits for many stores.

"I'm doing my shopping on a budget, which is why I'm digging through the clearance bin," said Katrina Attis, 25, as she shopped on Sunday at a J.C. Penney (JCP) store in a mall in Elmhurst, N.Y.

Before Christmas, Attis will focus on her immediate family. For herself and other members of her family, she will shop next week when she expects bigger bargains.

"Retailers recognize that consumers will wait as long as they need to," said Charles O'Shea, senior analyst at Moody's Investors Service, who noted bigger discounts this weekend than in the corresponding weekend in 2012 as he did store checks in various cities.

The problem is particularly acute for specialty apparel retailers, O'Shea added, pointing to teen apparel chain Abercrombie & Fitch (ANF) as one of the stores with the most noticeable increases in price cuts.

Rival Aeropostale (ARO), which is trying to stanch deep sales declines, was touting up to 70 percent off everything in its stores on Sunday.

While electronics chains have benefited from best-selling items like Microsoft's (MSFT) Xbox One video-game console and Sony (SNE) rival product PlayStation 4, clothing has been a harder sell, he said.

No. 3 U.S. retailer Target (TGT) suffered reduced customer traffic over the busiest shopping weekends of the year in the wake of a massive data breach, the Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday, citing retail consultancy Customer Growth Partners.

Hackers stole data from up to 40 million credit and debit cards of shoppers who visited Target stores during the first three weeks of the holiday season in the second-largest such breach reported by a U.S. retailer.

Some Cheer

Still, some retailers seem to be faring well. Chad Hastings, the general manager of Town East Mall in Mesquite, Texas, said the department stores in his mall told him sales this weekend were better than expected. The mall is anchored by Penney, Macy's (M), Dillard's (DDS) and Sears (SHLD).

Lakner said she expects Tiffany & Co. (TIF), Fossil Group (FOSL) and apparel retailers Lululemon Athletica (LULU) and Zumiez (ZUMZ) to do better than others.

"With compelling new collections like Ziegfeld, some old favorites like Keys in resurgence and hot trends such as colored diamonds, not to mention benefits from lower raw materials prices, we think [Tiffany] should be a standout for holiday."

The analyst also said Fossil stands to benefit as it has a strong portfolio of watch brands, which include Michael Kors, Marc Jacobs and Burberry.

Store checks showed Lululemon showed continued popularity amongst its core female customers while the colder weather has helped Zumiez, Lakner said. The company sells snowboards and winter sportswear.

Retailers caught a break from Mother Nature. Despite a winter storm that hit major Midwestern markets such as Chicago and Detroit, no event was severe enough to disrupt holiday shopping in any part of the country, said Evan Gold, a senior vice president at Planalytics, a weather consulting firm in Berwyn, Pa.

Gold predicted no disruptions in the last two days before Christmas.

Experts expect the promotions to continue until the very end of the season in January.

"Without question, the shopper is in the driver's seat," said John Yozzo, a managing director at FTI Consulting in New York.


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6 Comments

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Deborah

I am still trying to see these "deeper than usual discounts" they are talking about......where, what??? Not seeing it anywhere here. As for me, I budgeted half the amount on gifts that I spent last year for my grandkids and all adults got baskets with homemade mixes and other homemade goodies to keep costs low. I had a lot of fun using my creativity!

December 24 2013 at 2:58 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
paddleman1928

at some point consumers will wake up and realize that they better save what little money they have for the coming crash.

December 23 2013 at 8:49 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
Kent

Sometimes, retailers are their own worse enemies. I tried to buy for my wife a mask that one would wear while running in cold weather. Every store said that they only had a few in stock, and they are gone, even though this has been one of the colder Decembers in some time.

No one will get one in stock until the second week of January.

So now, I have to cut out a picture and give it to my wife.

December 23 2013 at 4:38 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
jdykbpl45

The Obama-Bernake economy is not good!

December 23 2013 at 11:49 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
jimmy_branch

Minimum wage only goes so far doesn't include Christmas shopping, eating or home ownership.

December 23 2013 at 10:40 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to jimmy_branch's comment
Kent

If you raise the minimum wage at fast-food joints, that just might be my motivation to stop eating out so much and cook more at home. Good for the unionized grocery stores. Bad for anyone involved in the fast-food sector, whether it's the franchisor, franchisee, or people working the counter.

December 23 2013 at 4:40 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply