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.