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Holiday sales still coming up short

NEW YORK — Santa’s hitting the malls with an empty sack so far this holiday season, as same-store retail sales remained soft and beneath plan for a third straight week during the third week of December, rising just 2.1 percent, the Johnson Redbook Index reported.

For the three weeks month-to-date, sales have climbed a skimpy 2 percent, falling well shy of a targeted 2.6 percent gain, said Redbook.

Full-price department stores were hardest hit, sales edging ahead just 0.2 percent for the three weeks month-to-date, missing even a modest target of a 0.9 percent gain. Discounters fared better, but still fell short themselves, with sales for the three weeks gaining 2 percent, shy of a 2.6 percent target.

“Sales continued below plan for the third consecutive week and are making it harder for retailers to meet targets,” said Redbook Analyst Catlin Levis. “Higher-priced accessories such as handbags and housewares were volume leaders at upscale department stores. Discounters reported an improvement in electronics such as iPods, satellite radios and digital cameras along with other general merchandise.”

Levis added, “The most positive development was a pickup in seasonal business as cold weather across much of the nation stimulated sales of outerwear, heavy winter apparel and other cold weather items. Seasonal sales also have been lubricated by price action and in some cases by intensifying promotional activity beyond originally scheduled levels and extending operating hours. Some sources said markdowns had become pervasive and were affecting margins. In addition, online shopping remained at a strong pace and gift cards were on the rise shifting sales to the period after the holiday season, which could affect sales data.”

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