Gift cards helped procrastinators wrap up their holiday shopping lists last week but left retailers crossing their fingers that recipients will redeem them swiftly.
The International Council of Shopping Centers and Goldman Sachs reported in their weekly report on chain-store sales that, in the seven days following Super Saturday on Dec. 20, sales were up 2.2 percent over the comparable week of 2013 and up less than 0.1 percent from the preceding week to an index level of 586.9.
Figures were adjusted to reflect the greater number of days in the week prior to Christmas as compared to last year, when the holiday fell on a Wednesday.
Michael Niemira, ICSC research consultant and principal of The Retail Economist LLC, noted that, while 11 percent of consumers had said just a week ago that they’d yet to begin their holiday shopping, many of them relied on purchases of gift cards for their loved ones. For retailers to recognize those transactions as revenue before the end of the retail calendar year next month, recipients will need to use those cards to make purchases.
“Looking ahead to January, consumers reported that the share of their total holiday gift purchases that went into gift cards rose to 24.6 percent compared to 23.7 percent in 2013, reinforcing the importance of post-Christmas shopping and gift-card redemption,” Niemira said.
Results didn’t rise to the level of those for the week ended on Super Saturday, when sales rose 3.1 percent on a year-over-year basis and 3.4 percent on a sequential basis.
ICSC said business was strong at wholesale clubs and ahead at furniture stores while “generally soft with particular weakness at grocery, department, non-apparel specialty, apparel, discount, online-only and office supply stores.”
On average, consumers said that a third of their gift expenditures for the holiday season was done online.
Temperatures failed to provide an incentive to buy cold-weather apparel — but didn’t complicate trips to stores and malls. According to Weather Trends International, the average temperature last week was 5.4 degrees warmer than during the comparable 2013 week and 6.8 degrees warmer than its long-term average, making for the second warmest Christmas week in more than 25 years and boosting purchases of non-seasonal items such as electronics and jewelry at the expense of outerwear and electric blankets.
A small sample of publicly held retailers will report December sales on Jan. 8. The increase among those stores is expected to range between 4 and 4.5 percent, according to The Retail Economist.