Shoppers check out during sales at Target in Braintree, Mass.(Photo: Allison Joyce, Getty Images)
Sales made in the post-Christmas rush to redeem retail gift cards or
make returns could help an otherwise lackluster shopping season meet
rosy estimates for holiday sales.
The International Council of
Shopping Centers said Wednesday that retail sales for the week ended
Dec. 22 were up just 0.7%, but the group says it's sticking to its
forecast for a 3% increase in sales for the whole holiday season.
ICSC estimate is in contrast to the 0.7% sales increase MasterCard
Advisors research chief Michael McNamara said it saw in the two months
leading up to Christmas. MasterCard's estimate is for sales using cash,
checks and all credit cards in key holiday categories, including luxury
goods, clothing, electronics and furnishings, as well as online sales.
Still, McNamara says, it represents just 30% to 35% of the U.S. retail
sales except for cars, groceries and restaurants.
MasterCard's estimate for the same period was up 2%. The official
National Retail Federation tally of 2011's sales, however, showed they
were up 5.6%.
McNamara did note that sales the week after
Christmas account for about 15% of holiday sales, so that could brighten
the picture. And the NRF is sticking to its estimate that holiday sales
will be up 4.1%.
"One of the biggest weeks of the holiday season
is just beginning, and we are looking to Washington to come together in
these crucial moments to avert going over the fiscal cliff," NRF CEO
Matt Shay said. "Consumers' mixed confidence so far this holiday season
has been evident, but we still believe we are on pace for decent growth
Marion Posen, 53, shopped at the Lansdale, Pa., Kohl's
store on Wednesday, where she hoped to find items on sale that she'd
seen on Saturday. Despite a spate of inclement weather keeping checkout
lanes wide open, she says the store had sold out of the items she hoped
"Their stock had been depleted, definitely. But I found other things," said Posen, who left with two shirts and two sweaters.
shoppers show up to redeem gift cards and return or exchange gifts,
they often spend far more than the value of the gifts or cards. Gift
cards are the most popular last-minute gifts, according to a Consumer Reports poll. And their sales aren't counted until they are redeemed.
in gift cards and returning wrong sizes the day after Christmas has
been a tradition for Kelsey Heinze, 25, and her sister Sarah, 23, since
they were old enough to drive. On Wednesday, the crowds at the King of
Prussia Mall, one of the largest malls in the country, located outside
Philadelphia, were "very pleasant until the hour of noon, and after that
complete chaos," said Kelsey. Her favorite buy: an emerald pencil skirt
from J. Crew, an exchange for the same item in the wrong size.
got off to a slow start in December, following a busy - and long -
Black Friday shopping period. But they got their second wind and stepped
up their shopping the week ended Dec. 15, ICSC chief economist Michael
He wasn't sure the momentum would carry through the
few days leading up to Christmas, however. Wintry weather in much of the
country may have kept some shoppers home.
McNamara agrees the
big winter storm that hit northern areas of the country may well have
kept people home but could have helped online sales.
Chase's Holiday Pulse survey, online sales from Oct. 29 to Christmas
were up 15.2% over last year. Sales volume for transactions settled on
Dec. 23 was up 124% over last year.
"You're seeing merchants
enabling last-minute shopping, and that's driving a lot of traffic from
consumers who want to purchase late in the game," says Shaun Abraham,
strategic initiatives director for Chase Paymentech.
Christmas Day were up 22.4% over Christmas 2011, according to the IBM
Digital Analytics Benchmark, out Wednesday. All those new iPads may have
paid off for other retailers. The iPad drove more retail shopping than
any other mobile device - with 12.5% of online sales.
said the weekly sales were being compared with a week last year that
included Christmas Eve, so he expects the current week's sales will be
boosted even more by the calendar shift. His group is holding to its
prediction of a 4% to 4.5% increase in December retail sales and a 3%
increase overall for the holiday season.