Alexa

US shoppers crowd stores on last weekend before Christmas, as stores remain on edge

US shoppers crowd stores on last weekend before Christmas, as stores remain on edge

American shoppers _ taking advantage of deep discounts and expanded hours _ jammed stores over the last weekend before the Christmas holiday to try to scoop up bargains. But the spending surge may not be enough to offset what is shaping up to be a mediocre December for some retailers.
Based on early reports on Sunday, mall operators including Macerich Co. said they were pleased with the spending spree over the weekend, but they were still counting on Christmas Eve and post-Christmas business to meet holiday sales goals in what has turned out to be a nail biter of a season.
Meanwhile, even as shoppers continued to snap up flat-screen TVs, video game software and other gadgets, benefiting stores like Best Buy Co., the apparel business remains challenging, analysts said.
Ed Schmults, chief executive of toy merchant FAO Schwarz, which operates stores in Chicago and New York, said Sunday that pre-Christmas business is below expectations despite a sales surge this weekend.
Many merchants, who had struggled through a sluggish December after a strong start to the season, are counting even more on the final days before Christmas to make their holiday goals. With the three days prior to Christmas accounting for as much as 15 percent of holiday sales, there is a lot of business left on the table.
With Christmas falling on a Tuesday, shoppers were enticed to wait even longer this season to finish their holiday shopping. A challenging economy _ higher gas prices and a housing slump _ also made some shoppers hold off until the final days before the holiday. Retailers routinely discount items deeper as Christmas draws nearer.
"The gas prices and car insurance ... is up. I would say I'm spending less and worrying more about it," said Sondra Newton, of Warren, Michigan, who was at Oakland Mall in Detroit on Friday. "I used to just take their (her children's) list and get the top ones on it. Now I have to think about what can I get at the best deal."
Nevertheless, Michael P. Niemira, chief economist at International Council of Shopping Centers, is sticking with his December forecast for a 1.5 percent gain in same-store sales, or sales at stores opened at least a year. That would mean same-stores sales for the November-December period would be up 2.5 percent from a year ago.
"I think when the dust settles, stores will have met expectations, though they are modest," said Bill Martin, co-founder of ShopperTrak RCT Corp., which tracks total sales at more than 50,000 retail outlets. He said he is still sticking with his 3.6 percent forecast for the November and December period, though he added, "some retailers will do OK, and others won't."
ShopperTrak is expected to release total sales for the week ended Saturday late on Monday.
Jerry Storch, chairman and CEO of Toys "R" Us Inc., said the past weekend was strong, and that people were buying "everything," from video-game software to games. He noted that shipments of Wii are selling out as fast as Toys "R" Us gets them, while the retailer is running out of Fisher-Price's Smart Cycle, a stationary bike that plugs into the TV. The season's hot video game, "Guitar Hero 3," is also hard to find.
Ken Gillette, senior vice president of operations at Macerich, noted that the weekend was "very busy," with traffic on Saturday up 20 percent from the previous Saturday. He said while the day after Black Friday starts off the season, the most intense sales volume comes in the few days before Christmas.
Still, overall holiday sales gains could come at a cost for retailers, says Sherif Mityas, partner and central region leader at consultancy A.T. Kearney, noting that stores discounted heavily at the expense of margins. He believes that apparel merchants will see their fourth-quarter profits most hurt.
____
AP Writers Natasha Robinson in Troy, Michigan, Robert Imrie in Wausau, Wisconsin, Sophia Tareen in Chicago and Jessica Gresko in Miami contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-03-04 15:12 GMT+08:00