In the US, ‘after Christmas’ begins before the holiday

CHRISTMAS CAME EARLY::US retailers are offering early discounts to lure customers into stores during what is usually the busiest shopping period of the year

AP, NEW YORK

Thu, Dec 26, 2013 - Page 15

On the last day of shopping before Christmas Day, US retailers seemed to be turning their attention to the day after the holiday.

Amazon.com already is offering after-Christmas deals of up to 70 percent off clothes and 60 percent off some electronics. Old Navy is running TV ads that its “after-holiday sale starts early” with discounts of up to 75 percent off.

Usually stores wait until the day after Christmas to offer deep discounts of up to 70 percent or more on clothes, shoes and other holiday merchandise that did not sell.

This year, Americans who are still worried about the economy and other concerns have held tightly to their purse strings and sales at stores have fallen for the past three consecutive weeks.

The earlier “after Christmas” deals come as retailers are feeling more pressure to attract Americans into stores during the final week of what is typically the busiest shopping period of the year.

The two-month period that begins on Nov. 1 is important for retailers because they can make up to 40 percent of their annual sales during that time.

Sales at US stores dropped 3.1 percent to US$42.7 billion for the week that ended on Sunday compared with the same week last year, according to ShopperTrak, which tracks data at 40,000 locations.

That follows a decline of 2.9 percent and 0.8 percent during the first and second weeks of the month respectively.

Stores had a problem even getting Americans into stores, let alone getting them to spend. The number of shoppers fell 21.2 percent during the week that ended on Sunday, according to ShopperTrak.

Karen McDonald, a spokeswoman at Taubman Centers, which owns or operates 28 malls, estimated that business for the week that ended on Sunday was unchanged to mid-single digit percentage growth compared with a year ago.

Overall, ShopperTrak estimates that holiday sales at stores so far are up 2 percent to US$218.4 billion compared with the same period last year. That is below the 2.4 percent forecast for the two-month period, but the company is standing by that estimate with a little more than a week left before the season ends.

The US National Retail Federation, the nation’s largest retail group, also said it is sticking with its forecast that sales in stores and online will be up 3.9 percent to US$602.1 billion.

In order to get that growth, stores have tried all they can to lure shoppers in. That includes rolling out discounts that are usually reserved for after Christmas.

However, some analysts doubt the discounts will be enough to save the season for stores.

Research firm Retail Metrics predicts this month’s revenue in stores open at least one year, a key retail metric, will rise 2.8 percent, just slightly higher than last year’s 2.6 percent increase.

“Our store checks coupled with numerous other reports from over the weekend suggest the final Super Saturday weekend, while busy, did not generate the final crush of shoppers necessary to save this holiday season from being ‘ho-hum,’’’ Retail Metrics president Ken Perkins said.