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Retail sales gains fall short of target

With consumers holding out for last-minute bargains and retailers marking down the goods even earlier this year, retail sales made only meager gains during the period, falling well short of expectations, the Redbook Retail Sales Average reported.

Same-store sales edged up by 0.8 percent during the week, slipping from an even stronger gain of 1.1 percent during the first week of the month, as consumers kept their wallets in their pockets during what should have been a bustling shopping season.

For the first two weeks of the month, same-store sales rose by 1.0 percent from year-ago levels, far behind a targeted increase of 2.1 percent. Sales rose a meager 0.4 percent over November levels, falling substantially beneath a target of a 1.6 percent increase.

The season is widely compared to last year's, which was characterized by last-minute shopping after a slow start, a trend retailers say is with each season. Despite the softness of the first two weeks, most retailers still expect to reach their modest monthly targets with the month significantly backloaded by last-minute holiday shopping.

Traffic levels "were satisfactory," said Redbook analyst Catlin Levis, "suggesting that promotions have been effective in drawing customers into the stores. Alongside scheduled promotions, certain retailers have conceded to taking unplanned markdowns in order to move seasonal apparel. The merchandise mix in the second week had a focus on women's apparel, children's wear, consumables, seasonal decorations and electronics, depending on a store's specialty."

New York was a special case, said Levis, with retailers apparently benefiting from fear of a possible transit strike. "Some shoppers were trying to get some last-minute holiday shopping in order to prepare themselves for the possible strike. Strike-related items such as shoes and outerwear did well."

Breaking out results on a regional basis, Levis said sales in the Northeast and Midwest made the largest gains.

Redbook Retail Sales Average
Second 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 -1.3 -1.0 -0.1
Discounters 2.6 2.5 2.5 3.8
Redbook Average 1.1 0.8 1.0 2.1


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