Herald-Sun editorial: Holiday shopping numbers reflect state of economy

Dec. 27, 2012 @ 05:09 PM

Lines at stores and traffic at peak times showed that there are plenty of local folks out there who did a lot of holiday shopping. The same goes for the post-Christmas rush: lots of traffic, a lot of apparent business at a number of stores.

But, nationwide, was it a crush of traffic, a wealth of shoppers, a major increase over last year’s holiday season?

No, it was not.

But it was not a disaster, either. As reported this week, the national figures appear to be a projected growth rate in sales of a little under 3 percentage points. That rate is the lowest year-over-year increase since 2009’s result of just under 1 percentage point, and well below last year’s 5.8 percentage point improvement over 2010.

The final tallies won’t be determined for a few days yet, with some lingering post-holiday shopping still to be done. But the projected figures do a decent job of reflecting what most of us are feeling these days about the economy. Things are not quite so bad, and in some ways are looking up – but nobody appears to be hugely optimistic about the way things are going, particularly with the lingering uncertainty of the national debt and the fiscal cliff. Comments from local merchants echoed that mindset.

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

One expert called the shopping season a “roller-coaster,” with peaks during Thanksgiving and Christmas weeks and valleys otherwise, but with an overall tone termed as “optimistic.”

These results also prompt one to wonder if, perhaps, some Americans are recalibrating what the holiday season is all about. With the economic downturn, sluggish recovery, and everything else, it is no great loss to give a little less, materially speaking, at this time of year, and do a little more in other ways.