Merchants see modest increase in holiday sales numbers

Dec. 26, 2012 @ 07:14 PM

“We’ll take it.” That was the response that Nancy McKaig, owner of Durham’s independent boutique Smitten, had to this year’s expected holiday sales increase.

McKaig, who also owns the shoe store Step on Broad Street, said she hadn’t finished running the numbers yet, but she said she believes the West Main Street boutique that sells women’s clothing and accessories saw growth this holiday season, but it wasn’t the level of growth seen last year.

“People, I think, last year, went a little bit above and beyond; this year they were a little restrained,” McKaig said. “We did see increases, so we were happy with those.”

Craig Johnson, president of the Connecticut-based Customer Growth Partners, said in an email message on Wednesday that the firm was still analyzing its data from the past weekend, but what the firm has seen so far confirms its pre-season forecast of 2.8 percent year-over-year sales growth.

That rate was the lowest since 2009’s 0.9 percent growth rate, he said, and below last year’s year-over-year growth rate of 5.8 percent. He said his year was similar to the holiday sales period in 2007, which he said both had solid year-over-year growth in November, but “both saw sales slow immediately after Black Friday.”

He said that December-to-date sales were up 1 percentto 1.5 percent year-over-year, which he said was similar to 2007. The “potential good news,” he said, is that the week from Christmas to New Year’s may “be the best ever.”

“Today and next week will be far too late too late to turn a tepid holiday into a terrific holiday, but at least it might save it from turning into a Christmas turkey,” he said.

Bill Martin, founder and executive vice president of ShopperTrak, a Chicago-based company that provides retail and mall foot traffic information, said the company is standing by its 2.5 percent sales increase forecast for November and December. The company had adjusted the forecast down from 3.3 percent.

Martin said Wednesday that ShopperTrak officials still believe 2.5 percent is likely going to be the result. That’s compared to what he said was sales growth of 4.2 percent for the holiday period of November and December last year.

“We felt like the consumers were on the sideline leading up to the week before Christmas,” Martin said. “Procrastinators waited a long time before they got into the shopping circuit. Weekend results come out tomorrow – we feel like the traffic numbers were pretty strong.”

According to the International Council of Shopping Centers and Goldman Sachs Weekly Chain Store Sales Index, retail sales increased by 0.7 percent for the week that ended Dec. 22 compared to the prior week. Year-over-year, the week saw sales growth of 3.2 percent.

Jesse Tron, a spokesman for the International Council of Shopping Centers, said the council is sticking to a forecast of 3 percent growth for the two-month holiday period of November and December. The final number will be available Jan. 3, Tron said.

“Although the performance is mixed, the tone seems optimistic overall,” said Michael Niemira, vice president, chief economist and director of research for the International Council of Shopping Centers Inc. “The weekly pattern has been like a roller coaster ride, peaking during the week of Thanksgiving, and the week leading up to Christmas,” he added.

Corey Teasley, part-time assistant manager of Lids at Northgate Mall, said Wednesday that he believes the store did well this year – about the same as last year.

He said the business benefited from a new style of hat and unique colors, and a store promotion also brought excitement.

Teasley said he felt that consumers waited until close to Christmas to shop. He said he believes the store got more traffic from Dec. 20 to 24 than at any other time in the month.

“Last year was a big boom,” he said. “We probably did about the same thing as we did last year, I would say.”