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December starts slow for retailers

Below-plan sales for most retailers resulted in a meager 1.1 percent pickup in the Redbook Retail Sales Average for the first week of December. This gain was well below the 2.7 percent increase for the final week of November and off from Redbook's targeted gain for the month of 2.1 percent.

The laggard results for December's first week were attributed to consumers taking a breather from their after-Thanksgiving shopping and to the weather. "Retailers described the week as a lull that began the weekend after a hectic [for some] post-Thanksgiving surge," Redbook said. "A snowstorm swept through the East Coast as well as the Midwest, keeping shoppers away."

The research firm also projected that retailers' results would probably be volatile week to week throughout December. It also noted that the stores have urged that their November-December sales gains should be evaluated as one period in comparison to last year's holiday season.

December, Redbook observed, "is a lopsided month, with a disproportionate volume of sales delivered in the week before Christmas. This pattern has intensified in recent years as customers have learned to shop at the last minute to exploit merchant markdowns."

Regarding the first week of the month, the research firm said toys and other gift categories didn't top shoppers' lists during the week. This is "another possible indication that consumers are deferring holiday shopping until the last minute. December's performance, however, like November's, will not become clear until the final week."

Redbook Retail Sales Average
First week of December

Week ended 12/7 12/14 12/21 12/28 Month Target
*Including chain stores and traditional department stores.
Source: Redbook Retail Sales Average, a unit of Instinet, a Reuters company.
Department stores* -0.7 -0.7 -0.1
Discounters 2.6 2.6 3.8
Redbook Average 1.1 1.1 2.1


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