By  on November 29, 2004

NEW YORK — Even as shoppers flooded their stores over the weekend, spending $23 billion on everything from flat-screen TVs to fur-trimmed tops, retailers stayed cool and cautious in their holiday outlook.

Consumers were driven by doorbusters and pent-up demand as they sought out electronics, toys, jewelry and gift cards. Other leading categories included accessories and apparel, especially products that offered luxury and exclusivity.

Specifically, DVD players, iPods, cashmere sweaters, diamonds, fur trim tops, handbags, boots and contemporary sportswear kept most retailers on track, buoying their holiday expectations, though not enough to adjust forecasts upward. As reported, projections call for about 2 to 3 percent comp-store gains and total sales gains a couple of points higher.

While off to a good start, with widespread reports of huge crowds besieging such stores as Target, Best Buy and Macy’s at both malls and downtown locations, the big turnouts can be deceptive, retailers acknowledged Sunday. The Christmas season is a prolonged and unpredictable run, they cautioned. Some also said that Saturday’s business was not nearly as heady as Friday’s and despite the overall success of the weekend and business getting progressively better, uncertainty remains a major component to the season.

As has been the case for years, discounting and coupons will be ubiquitous, yet many retailers stressed their stores are equally or less promotional than last year, which throws another layer of uncertainty into the cake, aside from weather concerns. They’ve come to realize that the post-Thanksgiving weekend is not a reliable barometer of things to come.

“I am pleased the customer is responding to where we made big significant investments,” said Ron Klein, chairman and chief executive officer of Macy’s East, citing cold-weather merchandise, color across all families of business, iPods, gourmet cookware and cashmere. “I am optimistic, but I can’t read too much into it. This is the beginning. We have to see what happens. Last year, we were clearly impacted by blizzards. Climactic conditions made things extraordinarily difficult.”

According to Michael Gould, chairman and ceo of Bloomingdale’s, “The two days [Friday and Saturday] combined had a better trend than the first 25 days of the month. Is that a trend [going forward]? I don’t know, but it sure beats a poke in the eye.”

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