The Christmas selling season that ended two weeks ago was the most complex, multifaceted, baffling and difficult to analyze in recent memory.

Christmas selling season, Sears Holdings, Sears, Kmart, Electronics, apparel, drug chains, Supermarkets, mass retailers

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Inside This Issue - News

Holiday sales gains at most retailers ordinary

January 9th, 2012

NEW YORK – The Christmas selling season that ended two weeks ago was the most complex, multifaceted, baffling and difficult to analyze in recent memory.

More specifically, it was influenced by many factors that were nonstarters as recently as a decade ago — the maturation of online retailing, the growth of gift cards, the pervasiveness of unemployment amidst a sour economy and the notion that those retailers that remained open longest would reap the biggest benefits.

Then too, other, older realities remained in place — the race by department store and specialty retailers to determine how much they could possibly reduce prices around the holiday to attract increasingly price-conscious consumers, the wait-until-midnight shopper attitude that resulted in a flurry of last-minute shopping, the trough between the intense activity that marked the days after Thanksgiving and the hours before Christmas and the rush to stores on December 26, both to return unwanted or unappreciated Christmas presents and to take advantage of the season’s lowest prices.

What it all added up to was an ordinary holiday season for most mass retailers — and a disappointing one for some.

Indeed, on the day after Christmas Sears Holdings announced, that in the aftermath of a disappointing holiday season it would close up to 120 Sears and Kmart stores.

For most retailers, the news was not quite that bad, but nothing to sing about either.

America’s discount retailers collectively posted an increase of 4.5% for the 30 days between November 25 and December 24, while same-store sales advanced just 2.3%. That compares unfavorably with year-earlier figures of 5.1% and 2.8%, respectively.
Few product categories stood out in the discount retail ­community.

Electronics disappointed, as consumers increasingly turned to specialty and online retailers for those purchases. Toys were hurt by the absence of anything approaching a breakthrough product.

Apparel sales were impacted by an absence of winter weather through much of the country, a situation that generally did more harm than good across the store at a time of year when frigid temperatures generally encourage shopping.

Still, the season was salvaged to some degree by the expanded store hours at most discount outlets, the continued success of gift cards, the solid performance of such basic Christmas merchandise as greeting cards (personalized greetings remained a strong inducement to buy cards), trim-a-tree, gift wrap and holiday food.

For the nation’s drug chains, the story was much the same. Sales for the 30 days between Thanksgiving and Christmas advanced just 4.4% (versus 5.4% a year earlier) while same-store sales increased a scant 2.2% (against a year-earlier figure of 3.4%).

Drug stores remained outlets of choice for greeting cards, trim-a-tree, gift sets, beauty gift items and such basic Christmas merchandise as candy and food.

But many of the categories that carried drug chains a year ago — most notably basic beauty products and apparel — disappointed this year. Then too, the absence of flu and the lapse of the patent for Pfizer Inc.’s Lipitor also hurt chain drug retailing.

Supermarkets, on the other hand, performed pretty much as they always have — acceptably. Christmas, after all, remains truly a family holiday. And America’s grocery retailers remain the centerpiece of that holiday.

Still, sales at the nation’s food retailers only advanced 3.1% (versus 3.3% in 2010), while same-store sales gained 1.6% (against 1.8% a year ago), for the 30 days between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

On balance, however, Christmas 2011 was one in which the biggest gift of all for mass retailers was the fact that it finally ended.