December Sales Results a Mixed Bag

Did the 2012 calendar year end on a high note for retailers? It depends on which retailers you ask. And in a case like Limited Brands, the answer could simple be “yes, no and maybe.”

While Limited Brands’ saw its Bath & Body Works segment’s sales up 7% in December, its La Senza business unit’s sales were down 9%, according to figures it released today.

And its flagship Victoria’s Secret business unit was flat. That’s not just at its stores – Limited Brands said Victoria’s Secret’s direct sales were also the same as they were in December 2011.

Overall, Limited Brands reported year-over-year sales of 3% in December.

The big December winners, according to Business Wire’s Monthly Retail Report, were the off-price bricks-and-mortar discounters. Ross Stores, for example, saw its sales rise 11% year-over-year, and TJX Cos. was up 10%.

Target, however, saw very little growth in December. Its sales of $10.2 billion were relatively flat compared to the $10.1 billion it did last December.

Back in October, the National Retail Federation predicted holiday sales would modestly rise 4.1% this year to $586.1 billion. NRF’s arm expected online sales to grow 12% over last holiday season to as much as $96 billion.

But in mid-November, the NRF urged President Barack Obama and Congress to fix the impending fiscal cliff before Thanksgiving, fearing that tax hikes and spending cuts will affect consumer confidence for the holiday shopping season.

While the fiscal cliff was not resolved until New Year’s Day, it may not be what caused consumers to be thrifty shoppers. A Reuters/Ipsos poll shows nearly three-quarters of Americans (73%) said the debate around the fiscal cliff had no impact on their holiday spending.

The same poll shows that 57% of consumers polled spent the same this holiday season as last year, while 20% said they spent more this year than they did during the 2011 holiday season.

So where were consumers spending? Indications are customers were buying from their desks during the workday or from their tablets in front of the television at night.

Yesterday, said that 2012 was a record-breaking holiday season for businesses selling on Amazon. Third-party sellers on Amazon in the U.S. experienced record holiday growth of more than 40% year-over-year.

And although Macy’s Inc. saw its December sales grow just 3.6%, its season was saved by its ecommerce growth. Online sales for and combined were up 51.7% in December and 40.4% in 2012 year-to-date compared with the same periods in 2011.

Online measurement service comScore said ecommerce sales for the holiday season were up 14%. However, ecommerce slumped to the finish line: Based on corresponding shopping days Nov. 3, 2011 through Dec. 23, 2011, ecommerce sales had risen 16%, according to comScore.

Consumers also spent online later into the holiday season, according to comScore. The workweek of Dec. 17-21 saw $3.686 billion in ecommerce transactions, up 53% from the same period in 2011.

Two entertainment sellers struggled in December.

The Barnes & Noble retail segment, which consists of the Barnes & Noble bookstores and businesses, had revenues of $1.2 billion, a decrease of 10.9% over the prior year. Barnes & Noble attributed that to an 8.2% decline in comparable store sales, store closures and lower online sales.

Its NOOK segment, which consists of the company’s digital business (including Readers, digital content and accessories), had revenues of $311 million for the nine-week holiday period, decreasing 12.6% as compared to a year ago. Digital content sales increased 13.1%, while NOOK device unit sales declined during the holiday period as compared to the prior year. Digital content sales are defined to include digital books, digital newsstand, and the apps business.

And Trans World Entertainment, which operates the f.y.e. for your entertainment and Suncoast stores and, and sites, saw its December sales drop 3%. However, its sales for the 9-week holiday season were down 17%.

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