In its final verdict on the 2012 holiday season, the National Retail Federation said retail sales rose 3 percent to $579.8 billion and fell below the 4.1 percent gain to $586.1 billion projected in October.

This story first appeared in the January 16, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The pace through 2013 is expected to stay about the same, with the International Council of Shopping Centers forecasting a 3 percent gain. Retailing continues to show signs of recovery, but its rate of improvement has been hampered by the ongoing economic uncertainties around the world and politics in Washington impeding progress on negotiating resolutions on tax reform, spending cuts and the debt ceiling.

This month, sales have been slumping, according to the ICSC. For the week ending Jan. 12, retail sales decreased 0.6 percent, according to the ICSC and the Goldman Sachs Retail Chain Store Sales Index. On a year-over-year basis, retail sales continue to have momentum but slowed a bit to 3.3 percent.


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“The post-holiday blues kicked in over the last two weeks as week-over-week sales slid as consumers had little reason to shop with the holiday shopping season a thing of the past,” said Michael Niemira, ICSC vice president of research and chief economist. “The good news is that the overall momentum of retail sales continues to be relatively positive and should strengthen in the coming weeks.” For January, ICSC Research anticipates sales increasing 3 percent (excluding drugstores).

According to the NRF, the 3 percent gain for the holiday season is below the 10-year average holiday sales increase of 3.5 percent. Holiday sales in 2011 grew 5.6 percent.

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“For over six months, we’ve been saying that the fiscal cliff and economic uncertainty could impact holiday sales. As the number shows, these issues had a visible impact on consumer spending this holiday season,” NRF president and chief executive officer Matthew Shay said. “We can’t expect consumers to continue to carry the burden of growing our economy — Washington must put political differences aside and do what it takes to get our country growing again and Americans back to work.”

The NRF did characterize consumer spending in December as “solid” and helping retailers finish the year on a decent note. December retail sales (excluding automobiles, gas stations and restaurants) increased 0.8 percent seasonally adjusted from November and increased 2.1 percent unadjusted year-over-year.

Non-store holiday sales grew 11.1 percent, a bit below the 12 percent forecast from, the digital division of the NRF. Earlier this month, ComScore Inc., which tracks the digital world, reported that online sales gains for the November to December period rose 13.8 percent but came in short of the 16 percent expected.

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