Consumers appear to be putting off until just before Christmas what they procrastinated about doing early.
The International Council of Shopping Centers and Goldman Sachs reported today that chain store sales for the week ended Saturday rose just 1.1 percent, their smallest gain since a 0.6 percent increase in the week ended March 29.
The sequential change was stronger as sales rose 3 percent over the prior week after two weeks of declines.
“The weekly volatility lately reflects the increased promotional activity of the season,” said Michael Niemira, ICSC research consultant and principal of The Retail Economist LLC. “Consumers actually reported being considerably behind on their shopping compared to the same week last year, so the last few shopping days prior to Christmas should be robust.”
The percentage of shoppers who’ve completed their holiday shopping continues to lag behind prior years, with just 57.1 percent of shoppers surveyed having wrapped up their purchasing, according to a survey taken between Dec. 12 and 14. That’s down from 63.9 percent last year, 64.9 percent in 2012 and 70.3 percent in 2011.
In last year’s completion survey, 83.5 percent of shoppers had concluded shopping for the season between Dec. 19 and 21. Duplicating the 2013 figure this year would require more than a quarter of shoppers to complete their buying in the course of a single week.
This year, the percentage yet to begin holiday shopping stood at 19 percent last week, up from 13 percent a year ago.
ICSC pointed out that promotional shifts, uneven weather patterns and the late timing of Hanukkah this year have led to greater fluctuations in spending patterns this holiday season. Hanukkah begins tonight this year versus a start on the night of Nov. 27 in 2013. And, according to Weather Trends International, temperatures last week were a balmy 11.8 degrees warmer on average than in the prior-year week.
Both the Northeast and West Coast both experienced storms that might have kept some shoppers at home during the week.
ICSC said that business was soft at for most channels of distribution last week, with wholesale clubs stranding out as the single exception.
Fuel prices continue to leave more discretionary income for consumers to use for the holidays. According to the U.S. Energy Administration, the price of a gallon of regular-grade gasoline on Dec. 15 was 21.1 percent lower than in the prior year.