Christmas Sales Increase Compared to Previous Year

Monday there were released new figures showing that holiday shoppers in the U.S. spent a little more compared to last year. Mastercard, which compiled the data, says retail sales rose 3.6 percent from November until Christmas day, up sharply from a 2.3 percent drop for the same time last year.

A winter storm that slammed the northeast of the United States the Saturday before Christmas may have delayed some shoppers. But the latest figures show shoppers made up for it before and after the storm.

Retail analyst Lori Wachs says discounts on big ticket items like electronics were among the big draws. "The prices have come down to a real sweet spot of around $750 dollars for a 50 inch TV which is down around 20 percent from last year," she said.

Consumer spending is one of the biggest drivers of economic growth. Many shoppers were out in force in New York on Thursday, the day before Christmas. Many were proscrastinators, like Tiffany Smith. "I left it all to the last minute and I'm so ashamed to say it but I did. I just didn't feel like it. I didn't, why? Because of the crowds and the people and the lines," she said, Voice of America reports.

MasterCard Advisors tentatively estimates retail sales increased 3.6% between Nov. 1 and Dec. 24. But there is still plenty of reason for caution; accounting for an extra shopping day this year over last year could drag that figure down between 2% and 4%, the group said.

The MasterCard Advisors figure is based on sales activity in the MasterCard payments network, as well as estimates for other payment forms. Sales figures utilizing data reported by retailers will not be available until Jan. 7, while numbers from the Department of Commerce will not be available until Jan. 14.

The National Retail Federation, meanwhile, is sticking by a lot less bullish forecast, a 1% decline for November and December, or $438 billion in 2009 holiday sales. Even so, that's a better performance than 2008, when holiday sales slid 3.4% to $442 billion compared to $458 billion for the same period in 2007.

Forecasts for this year ranged from a 1% decrease in sales to a 1% increase in sales, The Business Insider reports.

News agencies also report, retailers did benefit this year by having less inventory on hand. This means they don't have to take big discounts on a big overabundance of merchandise following the season and can even move some Spring products in.

A pre-Christmas survey of 30 apparel and other specialty retailers by Jefferies Inc. showed no major changes or increases in the promotional posture of retailers since Black Friday. Promotions also remained lower than last year.

"As a result, we expect a highly profitable Christmas season," tempered somewhat by the big east coast storm the week before the holiday, said Jefferies retail analyst Randal Konik, The Wall Street Journal reports.

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