Disappointing holiday shopping season draws to a close


The stormy and icy winter weather that has slapped parts of the country isn’t helping, but that’s not the only problem brick-and-mortar retailers face as they push deep into what is looking like a middling-at-best holiday shopping season.

Sales have been off every week in December, compared with last year, according to Chicago-based research firm ShopperTrak, which tallies traffic at tens of thousands of stores across the country.

November was stronger, but ShopperTrak still forecasts that sales for the critical two-month period will increase only 2.4 percent.

“It’s not a pretty picture out there,” said retail industry consultant Britt Beemer, founder and CEO of America’s Research Group in Charleston, S.C.

Beemer, who predicts an overall holiday season sales bump of 2 percent to 2.5 percent, said discount-seeking shoppers aren’t seeing the types of deals they want.

“Consumers in this country are financially challenged,” he said. ” … When they spend money, they want it to go as far as (it) can.”

But many of those shoppers may only be postponing their spending — waiting for after-Christmas deals, or using gift cards.

“Consumers are smart,” said Anne Brouwer, senior partner at Chicago-based retail consulting firm McMillanDoolittle. ” … There are plenty of people — whether it’s gift-card money or returns and the cash from that — who are just waiting it out ‘til post-Christmas and even January for what they see as the best deals.”

Brouwer said retailers’ results will vary based on their effectiveness as store operators. But all face the challenge of selling in a still-sluggish economy.

“There’s no question that incomes are not rising, wages are not rising, at the same pace as the cost of living,” she said.

“Couple that with, what was the big item this year? There really wasn’t a must-have. So I think there just weren’t things to drive the level of excitement or the rush to the store.”

 

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