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Redbook: All retailers felt the pinch in week No. 2

New York — With consumers waiting for holiday sales, and the mood made even more uncertain by a steady stream of layoffs, retail same-store sales fell off by 1.2 percent during the second week of December, weakening even further after a 0.9 percent decline the prior week, according to the widely watched bellwether, the Redbook Retail Sales Average.

Hardest hit, and dragging down the overall numbers, was the consistently weak department store sector, where sales fell by 5.5 percent, compounding the 5.0 percent drop during the first week of the month.

Even discounters were starting to feel a modest squeeze, with their month-to-date sales coming in modestly beneath plan: an increase of 2.6 percent, compared with a forecast gain of 2.8 percent.

"Retailers said the sluggish sales and low volume seen in the first week of December carried through most of the second week," said Redbook analyst Catlin Levis. "Both department and discount stores had lower sales growth than the previous week."

But striking a modestly hopeful note, Levis said business should pick up during the back half of the month. "Sales growth is expected to be the strongest in the next two weeks as consumers continue to delay purchases to close to Christmas. The two biggest weeks in December are the ones immediately before Christmas beginning on the preceding Saturday and the one immediately following it beginning with the succeeding Saturday. These weeks could determine the entire month's performance, which makes current readings somewhat provisional."

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