Holiday shopping season is wrapping up strongly

NEW YORK (AP) - The holiday shopping season is finishing bigger than anyone expected. Now, retailers are holding their breath and hoping consumers will keep spending in the final days before Christmas.

Sales from November through Saturday rose 2.5 percent, compared with the same period a year ago, according to research firm ShopperTrak, which did not give a dollar figure. Online, shoppers have spent almost $32 billion online for the holiday season so far, a 15 percent increase from a year ago, according to comScore, which tracks Web use.

The increases are good news for retailers, but they're not out of the woods just yet. The final week before Christmas, which includes four of the top 10 holiday shopping days, can account for up to 20 percent of sales for the season.

"I don't think anybody has claimed victory yet, but very few are writing concession speeches," said Arnold Aronson, managing director of retail strategies at consulting firm Kurt Salmon. "This Christmas will not be a blowout, but despite all the nervousness about the economy, it will be a decent Christmas."

This is the most important time of year for retailers. They can make between 25 and 40 percent of their annual sales in the last two months of the year. And this holiday season, stores are expected to ring up $469.1 billion during the holiday season, according to the National Retail Federation, nation's largest retail trade group.

Heading into the holidays, retailers were nervous that Americans were so scared about another recession that they wouldn't do much shopping. In fact, consumers themselves told consulting firm Deloitte in September that they planned to spend about 5 percent less on Christmas this year.

That led stores to panic. They began discounting earlier in the season, opening as early as Thanksgiving Day, and offering profit-busting incentives, including free shipping on clothes and juicy financing deals on furniture.

Despite all the worrying, though, the season has been a lot brighter than expected.

At Taubman Centers, which operates 26 malls in 13 states, retailers' year-over year sales on average are up mid-single digits through last weekend. Mall of America, North America's largest shopping center, has also seen "healthy" increases in customer counts and sales, said spokesman Dan Jasper. And Stephanie Sack, the owner of a clothing boutique and shoe store in Chicago, said business has improved.

"People in my world are still shopping," Sack said.

As a result, the National Retail Federation recently upgraded its forecast for holiday sales to increase 3.8 percent, up from its 2.8 percent forecast in October. Such an increase - below last year's 5.2 percent spike over 2009 - would still be above the 2.6 percent average gain over the last 10 years. ShopperTrak also raised its forecast to a 3.7 percent increase in sales, up from its estimate of 3 percent before the season started.

There's a reason for the renewed confidence. After all, Americans spent $52.4 billion alone over the four-day weekend starting on Thanksgiving. It was the highest total ever recorded for that period, according to the NRF.

Shoppers appear to be more willing to spend this holiday season after having cut back during the weak economy.

Lynn Vance, for one, was excited to shop this year after landing a new job at a clinical research firm. Vance, 36, said she and her friends were struggling with recession fatigue, itching to mark the occasion after years of contending with the economy's downturn.

"Last year, I was unemployed," Vance, who lives in Chicago, said. "This year, I have money and I want to share my happiness with others ... I think you can only say crouched in the position of uncertainty for so long, eventually have to act."


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment