Christmas Week Sales Save Retail

January 7, 2004

Christmas Week Sales Save Retail

Last-minute shoppers saved the day, and the season, as retail sales during Christmas week, which ended Dec. 28, shot up 24.6% from a year earlier, reports the Wall Street Journal. Gift Card redemptions, which happen after Christmas, also helped. Retailers said Dec. 24 and 26 were their busiest days, according to Redbook Research.

Unlike a year ago, when late spending was insufficient to help retailers meet their holiday goals, this year's finale was strong enough to "bring the month more into line with revenue growth expectations," Redbook said in its weekly sales report. Sales were sluggish earlier in the month due to a pair of back-to-back weekend snowstorms in the Northeast. Target Corp., which had been tracking same-store sales growth below projections for December, reported sales in the week ended Dec. 27 beat expectations.

"The surge was late. But it was enough to save the season" for many retailers, said Michael P. Niemira, chief economist at the International Council of Shopping Centers, who added that the holiday season was on track for the strongest performance since 1999.

The big story this year was online sales, which rose 30% to $12.5 billion between Nov. 1 and Dec. 31, according to ComScore Networks Inc. That was at the high end of the firm's forecast of between $12.1 and $12.6 billion. "We've just closed another great year in online commerce," said Dan Hess, senior vice president of ComScore Networks, noting consumers spent an average of $200 million per day throughout November and December.

Visa reported online sales using its cards were up about 50% every week during the holiday season. MasterCard said Internet sales and consumer-electronics sales using its cards racked up the biggest gains, while sales at department and toy stores fell.

And, on average, consumers spent 19.7% of their holiday budget online, compared with 16.3% in 2002, according to the Goldman Sachs, Harris Interactive and Nielsen/NetRatings eSpending Report.

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