News Column

Holiday Sales Fuel Cautious Optimism For Retailer Market

Dec 29, 2011

Amber Washington


There's Black Friday. There's Cyber Monday. Shoppers this year had the added benefit of Mega Monday.

The fourth year of a weak economy had gains this holiday season, with shoppers scoring deals in-store and online.

Last year's December department store sales hit $27.2 billion, a 44 percent climb over November sales. November 2010 registered $18.8 billion in sales, most of which were holiday-related.

According to the Associated Press, sales this holiday shopping season are expected to hit $469.1 billion. The year ends Saturday, but retailers hope for more gains this week, as consumer confidence is at an eight-month high.

The National Retail Federation recently revised its holiday forecast upward, from a growth of 2.8 percent to 3.8 percent.

"After strong sales reports in October and November, along with a successful Black Friday weekend, retailers are cautiously optimistic that this season will turn out better than initially expected, bringing added stability to our recovering economy at a time when America needs it most," NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said in a news release. "However, a number of factors, including the debt crisis in Europe and continued political wrangling in Washington, could impact consumer spending this holiday season and into 2012."

The announcement Tuesday that Sears Holdings Corp planned to close about 120 Kmart and Sears stores plunged Sears stock down 23 percent, the sharpest fall in the Standard and Poor's 500 Index.

Sears Hometown Store Cleburne Owner Jason Cech said his store is not affected. The list of store closings had not been released 2as of press time.

The news also dragged Whirlpool stock down by about 8 percent to $46.50, as the AP reported that investors worried Sears' closings would hurt Maytag and Whirlpool washer and dryer sales.

Still, it seems as if many will be busy spending right on through the new year.

Walmart Director of National Media Relations Sarah Spencer said that Walmart sees its highest percentage of gift card spending in the weeks following Christmas.

Last year's Dec. 26 fell on a Sunday, a day usually set aside for family; this year, Monday, deemed "Mega Monday," shoppers flocked to stores seeking after-Christmas deals.

Walmart was no exception. The retailer's stock hit its 52-week high of $60 on Christmas Eve. Tuesday, the stock hovered around $59.85.

"Walmart only releases sales results on a quarterly basis and will not be able to provide any sales data specific to the holiday shopping period," Spencer said when asked about holiday sales expectations.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc.'s next sales release will be Feb. 21, she said.

Higher sales were due in part to new trends in shopping, the AP reported.

One of those was the "Me" Buyer, who self-gifts.

"Though consumers remain concerned about the economy, they are demonstrating an increased willingness to spend this holiday season, not only on gifts but also on small luxuries for themselves," Shay said.

The "Me" Buyer started shopping for themselves last Christmas, but spent even more money on themselves this year.

The NRF said spending for non-gift items would increase by 16 percent this holiday season to $130.43 per person, the highest recorded number since the NRF started tracking the figures in 2004.

Source: (c)2011 the Cleburne Times-Review (Cleburne, Texas)

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