Post-holiday shopping gives relief to retailers

NEW YORK — The 2006 holiday season turned out to be unimpressive even as the nation’s stores got some relief from a post-Christmas buying spree in the final days of December, two reports confirmed Wednesday.

The International Council of Shopping Centers’ weekly sales index was was up 0.3 percent for the week ended Saturday compared to the previous week and rose 2.8 percent compared to the year-ago period. The index is based on same-store sales, or sales at stores opened at least a year, and are considered the industry standard for a retailer’s health.

ShopperTrak RCT Corp., a Chicago-based research company that tracks sales at more than 45,000 outlets, reported total retail sales for the week ended Saturday rose a solid 7.6 percent from a year earlier. Average weekly sales for December rose 4.5 percent, below the full season’s forecast for a 5 percent growth. ShopperTrak is scheduled to release the season’s final results next week.

After a robust start to the holiday season, many stores struggled with disappointing business in December, and a shopping surge in the final days before Christmas wasn’t strong enough to make up for lost sales. That’s why stores were counting even more on shoppers returning to stores right after Christmas to cash in their gift cards and buy discounted holiday goods.

“This past week, consumers provided retailers with some additional cheer as they began to cash in their gift cards,” said Michael P. Niemira, chief economist at International Council of Shopping Centers, in a statement. Still, he noted that the day after Christmas, sales were off by about a fifth from the corresponding day a year ago because Dec. 26, unlike last year, was not a federal holiday.

Niemira still believes December’s same-store sales growth will meet its reduced forecast of 2.5 percent. The original holiday forecast was for same-store sales to be up anywhere from 2.5 percent to 3.5 percent. For the combined November-December period, ICSC is sticking to its reduced growth forcast of 2.5 percent.

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