Holiday Post Mortem Begins

Now that the holiday season is over for retailers, the big question is, How were sales? And though the major publicly traded retailers won’t be releasing December sales data till next week, it’s safe to say that consumers were more eager to spend than they had been last year.

High-tech gadgets cataloger/retailer Sharper Image Corp., for instance, boasted of “robust holiday sales” in a press release. Sales from Dec. 1 to Dec. 24 were up 30% from last year, with same-store sales up 21% and Web sales up 34%.

Without citing specific sales figures, men’s apparel cataloger/retailer Jos. A. Bank Clothiers reported that December sales exceeded expectations. Online superstore, meanwhile, reported record holiday sales.

MasterCard Advisors, a division of MasterCard International, estimated that holiday spending from Nov. 28 to Dec. 24 was up 6.5%. Direct marketers were among the biggest gainers, according to MasterCard, enjoying a 6.5% increase in sales. Consumer electronics and appliance stores saw an estimated 6.7% uptick. But sales at apparel stores rose only 1.7%. Worse, department-store sales fell 1.4%, and toy stores suffered a 7.7% decline in sales.

According to Visa USA, from Nov. 28 to Dec. 28, spending on the company’s credit and debit cards was up 14.2% from the comparable period last year. The company noted, though, that “the growth of retail spending on Visa credit and debit cards has consistently outpaced the rate of growth of the retail sector as a whole.” In other words, shoppers didn’t necessarily spend that much more on holiday expenditures; rather, they used their credit cards in lieu of cash or checks more frequently than last year. All told, consumers charged roughly $97.9 billion in holiday spending on their Visa cards.

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