As anyone with a child above the age of four knows, electronics were the hot gifts of the season.
IPods, iPhones, Nintendo Wii game controllers and Envy cell phones seemed to trump apparel and toys this Christmas, especially since there wasn't one must-have item in either category. It's no surprise, then, that many electronics stores saw consumer traffic and sales soar, including Apple and Best Buy. There's a dichotomy, however, between the popularity of high-tech items and the movement afoot in the home industry toward simple, clean design, sustainable materials and eco-friendly messages.
Todd Slater, an analyst at Lazard Capital Markets, pegged Apple iPods, iPhones and Nintendo Wii game controllers as among the season's winners. In fact, Wii controllers were sold out in most stores early this month.
Best Buy has been posting strong financial results; for the coming quarter, analysts are expecting $1.82 earnings per share on $13.67 billion in revenues. Its large selection of PCs, Smart phones, iPods, video games and LCD TVs have a lot to do with it, but the company also sells appliances and furniture. Analysts dismiss Wal-Mart as a threat to Best Buy, calling the discounter a serious competitor but pointing out that hard core electronics shoppers prefer Best Buy because of its focus on the category.
But not all retailers in the category benefited from the boom. CompUSA is closing all its stores, while Circuit City's results have been lackluster even as Best Buy's have soared. According to a Circuit City spokeswoman, a survey of 3,000 men and women found that electronics was the top gift for 52 percent of men and women. Among women only, electronics was the top choice of 41 percent, followed by clothing, 24 percent, and jewelry, 20 percent. In an attempt to boost customer traffic, Circuit City extended its store hours during the season, made knowledgeable sales associates available by phone and opened its Web store 24/7. The retailer offered free shipping for items priced at least $24.
Barnes & Noble's holiday bestseller list for DVDs included "The Jungle Book" by Bruce Reitherman, "House M.D." Season 3, with Hugh Laurie, "My So Called Life" The Complete Series with Claire Danes, "It's a Wonderful Life" with James Stewart and "Grey's Anatomy" Season 3 with Ellen Pompeo. Many Barnes & Noble stores were packed in the weeks leading up to Christmas as customers sought the latest bestsellers as well as gift cards.
While housing market woes have impacted retailers such as Williams-Sonoma and Pottery Barn, Howard Lester, chairman and chief executive officer, said: "As we look forward to the fourth quarter, we are doing so with a heightened sense of caution due to our belief that the overall macro environment is having a greater impact on retail traffic than we previously anticipated."
"We're seeing a growing movement toward buying sustainable products," said Jane Berke, a spokeswoman at ABC Carpet and Home. "Our customers come to ABC because they want to be inspired. We give a percentage of sales to AMFAR."
This season, consumers gravitated toward items made by indigenous artisans such as textiles, wooden bowls and recycled glass. The store's collection of "gronded jewelry," made of green gold and sustainably mined diamonds, $100 to $1,800, was popular. So were Home and Planet air purifiers, from $345 to $1,000, to "filter out the pollution and toxins in New York City," she said. The store also sells organic mattresses from Greensleep, Royal Pedic and Natural Asleep, priced from $1,600 to $6,500.
ABC's January sale, which starts Thursday, features items reduced by up to 40 percent. "Furniture has really slowed down right now," she said. "It's all about gifts. And people know the tag sale is coming."
The Japanese-based retailer Muji, with stores in SoHo and Midtown, said sales at its new unit in the New York Times building on Eighth Avenue experienced higher sales volume since opening on Nov. 16. "The last two weeks of the holiday season, sales dramatically increased," said Mayuko Tanaka, a spokeswoman. Best-selling products during the holiday season included cardboard speakers, aluminum tables, molded sofas, polypropylene storage cases and beds in ash wood.