WWD.com/globe-news/retail-business/late-holiday-rush-falls-short-6556280/
government-trade
government-trade

Late Holiday Rush Falls Short

ShopperTrak reports big sequential weekly gains that translated into year-on-year declines.

The late rush just wasn’t strong enough.

ShopperTrak, the Chicago-based counter of retail foot traffic, said Thursday that sales and traffic grew 39.1 and 32 percent, respectively, during the week ended Saturday, Dec. 22, compared to the prior week.

Even this strong upswing wasn’t sufficient to bring the metrics up to prior-year levels. Pitted against numbers from the comparable week in 2011, last week’s sales were 2.5 percent lower while traffic slumped 3.3 percent.

The week ended with so-called Super Saturday, on Dec. 22, which rated as the second busiest day of the year for both sales and traffic, ShopperTrak said, trailing only Black Friday, Nov. 23. The third busiest day for both metrics was Saturday Dec. 15, followed by Friday, Dec. 21, which was the fourth busiest.

Although figures weren’t yet available, the organization projected that Dec. 26 would qualify as the fifth best traffic day and the seventh best sales day of 2012.

RELATED STORY: Stores Bank on Post-Christmas Sales >>

“Shopping on the day after Christmas won’t be as strong this year,” said Bill Martin, founder of ShopperTrak. “Last year, Dec. 26 fell on a Monday. Many people had the day off, which they spent shopping. This year, the day after Christmas was a Wednesday; many people were back at work, not out in stores.”

While the calendar didn’t cooperate with retailers in the days after Christmas, it had earlier in the season been advantageous for them, providing 34 days between Thanksgiving and Christmas versus 32 a year ago. But Martin didn’t blame the calendar or the nation’s combination of disastrous, inclement and even mild weather for fourth-quarter sales disappointments that led his firm, on Dec. 19, to lower its forecast for a holiday season sales increase of 2.5 percent. This was down from the 3.3 percent November-December gain estimated in September.

“There were a lot of headwinds and consumers played the waiting game,” he told WWD. “We knew the [presidential] election would be a distraction, but we also dealt with Hurricane Sandy and Newtown, which kept a lot of people in front of their TVs instead of in the stores. And as we’ve gotten closer to the end of the season, you’ve had the uncertainty of the fiscal cliff situation. Certainly, until consumers know what their taxes are going to be like in the coming year, they’re bound to be more conservative in their spending.”

RELATED STORY: Fiscal Cliff Hits Consumer Confidence >>

Softness earlier in the season proved to be a self-fulfilling phenomenon as well, as deep discounts to attract shoppers limited dollars per transaction and overall sales.

While original sales forecasts were lowered, Martin feels that sectoral projections were realized, with apparel generally strong and consumer electronics a bit weaker than overall sales. Although online purchases continued to gain share, rising to close to 9 percent for holiday overall from about 6 percent a few years ago, Martin considered apparel less affected by e-commerce’s surge than other categories.

“Apparel is more about look, feel, quality and impulse,” Martin said. “You can do more online research about electronics, which is essentially a matter of serial numbers, than you can about fashion.”