Retailers get some relief in final shopping weekend before Christmas

Dec 22, 2014

U.S. shoppers finally showed up to spend some money over the last couple of days, the final weekend before Christmas that can make or break many retailers' holiday sales. But they didn't spend quite enough to turn a so-so season into a strong one.

For all the talk about Black Friday every year, Super Saturday is much more important for the retail industry because shoppers have simply run out of time and have to buy something, lest they be shunned by a relative who finds nothing under the Christmas tree. So all eyes were on Super Saturday.

According to Customer Growth Partners, a Connecticut advisory firm that monitors 50 U.S. retailers across the country, consumers spent a record $42 billion on Saturday and Sunday, up from $41 billion on the same weekend last year.

That number will come as a relief to retailers, after a disappointing Black Friday weekend, when the National Retail Federation estimated sales fell 11% from the same weekend in 2013, largely because retailers started doling out deals earlier in the season.

Despite the strong numbers, there was still plenty for retailers to be concerned about. A big part of the boom this past weekend had to do with a bigger lull than usual between Black Friday and Super Saturday as shoppers waited to see how good deals would be. And apparel fared relatively poorly, raising concerns about how department stores and specialty clothing chains did. Moreover, once again, promotions were key to getting people to spend.

"Again, people responded like Pavlov's dog to the deep sales," said Craig Johnson, president of CGP. "The weekend wasn't enough to turn a mediocre holiday season into a good one."

Indeed, Nomura Securities said in a research note that a lot of retailers are already running the kinds of deals that would typically be offered after Christmas.

Still, by all accounts, Americans were spending, in a better mood thanks to stock market highs and low gas prices. According to Retail Next, an analytics firm, fewer shoppers did hit stores compared to the same weekend, but those who did spent more.

Areas that did do well, Johnson said, were consumer electronics and home improvement, boding well for retailers like Best Buy (bby) and Home Depot (hd),

Nevertheless, analysts generally were cautious about drawing any conclusions from this past weekend, saying the timing of Christmas this year leaves more shopping days than usual after the actual holiday.

"After Christmas will be huge this year because post-Christmas is happening on a weekend, so traffic will be heavy," said Shelley Kohan, Retail Next's vice president for retail consulting.

And of course, the week after Christmas is also crucial because shoppers, more apt to wait to shop themselves in hopes of snagging a bargain, have been waiting.

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