Economy weighs on US shoppers in last dash to mall


Tue, Dec 25, 2012 - Page 15

Holiday shoppers descended on US malls this weekend in a last-minute dash to buy gifts amid concerns about the nation’s economy and the impasse in Washington over taxes and spending.

Shopping on Sunday for clothes and toys for her children at a mall in Burlington, Massachusetts, Marjorie Decker, 40, said her family is spending less compared with last year.

“It’s an unpredictable economy,” said Decker, who will be sworn in next month as a member of the state legislature. “We’re more mindful of what they do and don’t need.”

US citizens have become warier as Washington nears the end of the year without an agreement to forestall higher taxes and spending cuts — the US’ “fiscal cliff.”

Last month, retailers posted same-store sales that trailed analysts’ estimates.

Consumer confidence fell this month to a five-month low, according to a Dec. 21 report. The Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan consumer sentiment index slid to 72.9, the weakest since July, from 82.7 last month.

In another sign that consumers are pulling back, US online sales increased 8.4 percent this holiday season, compared with last year’s almost 16 percent gain, MasterCard Advisors SpendingPulse said.

Sales grew to US$48 billion from Oct. 28 through Dec. 22, the New York-based research firm said on Sunday. The figures come from the 60,000 Web retailers it tracks.

Widespread power outages from Hurricane Sandy also hurt holiday shopping on the Internet, SpendingPulse vice president Michael McNamara said.

“When you look at the ‘fiscal cliff’ media coverage as well as the decline in consumer confidence and the slowdown in e-commerce, all those basically happened at the same time,” McNamara said in a telephone interview.

In a separate report, Comscore said on Sunday that e-commerce sales jumped 16 percent to US$38.7 billion between Nov. 1 and Dec. 21. The Reston, Virginia-based digital research firm reported a 15 percent gain last year.

“Super Saturday,” the industry’s term for the last Saturday before Christmas, may have rivaled the day after Thanksgiving, called Black Friday, for the busiest shopping day of the year, McNamara said. Black Friday recorded total sales of US$18.9 billion, he said.

An indication of how the two periods compare will come today when SpendingPulse plans to release its sales figures through yesterday. It tracks total US retail sales via all payment forms.