December 17, 2009 in Business

Sticking with sale plans

With a better idea of what to expect this year, retailers are on par with projections
Anne D’Innocenzio Associated Press
Associated Press photo

Holiday shoppers are seen in downtown San Francisco on Dec. 11. Figures released Wednesday from research firm ShopperTrak showed holiday sales rose 1.1 percent for the week ended Saturday compared with last year.
(Full-size photo)

Modest success

Some shopping barometers so far:

Holiday sales and traffic: Holiday sales are running about even with a projected 1.6 percent growth forecast, ShopperTrak co-founder Bill Martin said.

Last year sales were down 6 percent.

Customer traffic is down about 4 percent compared with last year, which saw a 15 percent plunge. Online, sales from Nov. 1 through Sunday were up 4 percent, comScore Inc. reported.

Discounting: Stores had planned aggressive discounts in advance for this holiday season. They knew shoppers, worried about tight credit and jobs, would be scouring for deals.

That strategy, combined with tight inventories, has meant that discounting has been similar to that of 2006, before the economy began to sour, according to Dan de Grandpre, editor of discount guide

For example, shoppers found clothing discounted 40 percent to 50 percent over Thanksgiving weekend. Those deals were scaled back to 20 percent to 40 percent in the two weeks after. This week, stores are deepening the top discounts to 60 percent to 70 percent.

NEW YORK – If you were hoping to find massive clearance sales as you finish up your holiday shopping, prepare to be disappointed.

Major stores that had worried it would take across-the-board discounts to lure shoppers are backing away from the panic button. They planned better this year in stocking their merchandise, and Americans are spending a little more than expected.

Sales last week were up 18 percent from the week before, and a little more than 1 percent higher than a year before, according to figures released Wednesday by research firm ShopperTrak.

And because stores didn’t load up on merchandise like they did last year before the financial meltdown, they have the luxury of sticking to their original plans for discounts – not desperately slashing prices further as Christmas nears.

“The difference between this year and last year was planning,” said Scott Krugman, a spokesman at the National Retail Federation, the world’s largest retail trade group, which hasn’t changed its forecast for a 1 percent decline in holiday sales. “Retailers had time to plan, whereas last year they didn’t.”

There are plenty of deals to be had, and discounts will probably be deeper this weekend, the last before Christmas, as happens most years. But people waiting for mounds of merchandise with 80 percent discounts – well, they might be left waiting.

That should help fourth-quarter profits as stores find they don’t have to slash prices drastically to clear out their stock.

For stores, the success of the holiday shopping season depends on the week before Dec. 25, which accounts for about a quarter of holiday sales, according to ShopperTrak, which tracks sales at more than 50,000 outlets.

In fact, the Saturday before Christmas usually rivals the day after Thanksgiving, the traditional start of holiday shopping, in sales volume. The last week “is where the rubber meets the road,” said John Long, retail strategist at Kurt Salmon Associates.

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