WASHINGTON — Cities across the U.S. reported a bleak outlook for the upcoming holiday season, driven by significant weakening of sales and consumer spending levels in the last two months, according to the Federal Reserve Board’s Beige Book released Wednesday.
Anecdotal accounts included in the report pointed in particular to declining sales of luxury items and big-ticket merchandise like electronics and furniture in most districts. Sales dropped or were weak in New York, San Francisco, Atlanta, Chicago, St. Louis, Minneapolis, Dallas and Richmond. Consumer spending slowed abruptly in Kansas City. Sales in Philadelphia remained steady but were still lower than in the same period the prior year.
Consumers continued the recent trend toward trading down. According to reports from most districts, discount stores outperformed department stores, and fast-food restaurants demonstrated more resilience than their more expensive counterparts.
Winter weather helped some retailers keep their heads above water with seasonal sales. One large New York chain said unseasonably cold weather in early November drove sales of outerwear and winter apparel, which helped mitigate otherwise dismal sales numbers. New York City, which until recently appeared somewhat insulated from trends affecting the rest of the region, weakened the most in October and November, according to reports, likely feeling the impact of Wall Street layoffs.
Heavy discounting was widespread across all regions, and most retailers expected the trend to continue through the holiday season.
Poor sales results also lead to an employment crunch, with many retailers hiring fewer seasonal employees or implementing a staffing freeze. Reports from Boston and Cleveland specifically noted that seasonal hiring at stores was scaled back, and retailers in Richmond implemented deep cuts in staffing levels.
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