Snow, Sun, Gift Cards Shape Holiday Season

The Retail Weather Index published by Wayne, PA-based risk management firm Planalytics claims that favorable weather, especially in the East, finally drove consumers into stores in the last two weeks of shopping before Christmas. The National Retail Federation, which staunchly upheld its positive prognostications for the retail season in the face of seemingly daunting statistics, opines that retail discounts and gift cards were behind the last-minute shopping surge—and even that “unseasonably warmer weather challenged apparel retailers,” according to NRF president and CEO Tracy Mullin.

For whatever reason one may wish to assign, a wide range of sources indicate that the 2004 holiday season was highly successful on the retail front. Ernst and Young calculates an 8.3% rise in categories that include non-store retailers (Internet merchants, for instance) and building and home improvement retailers. In fact, the latter two categories grew more than 15% during the last two months of last year. The NRF’s figures show overall holiday retail sales growth at 5.7%, 6.4% over 2003. For more detail, visit http://www.ey.com and http://www.nrf.com.

And on a more specific level, fulfillment consulting firm F. Curtis Barry & Co. reports in its most recent newsletter that catalog clients mostly performed above their plans despite some initial worries in the fall. An exception, according to Barry, was small apparel catalogs, for whom sales were slightly down. Same-store sales languished, Internet sales flourished, and giant retailers such as Wal-Mart and Sears, Roebuck & Co. saw decreases, while upscale retailers such as Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom’s did well. For more detail, visit http://www.fcbco.com.

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