Holiday sales fell for third consecutive week,

Anne D'Innocenzio, The Associated Press 0

NEW YORK, N.Y. – After a strong start to the holiday shopping season, sales at stores have fallen for the third consecutive week as Americans continue to hold back on spending during what is traditionally the busiest buying period of the year.

Sales at U.S. stores dropped 3.1 per cent to $42.7 billion for the week that ended on Sunday compared with the same week last year, according to ShopperTrak, which tracks data at 40,000 locations. That follows a decline of 2.9 per cent and 0.8 per cent during the first and second weeks of the month, respectively.

The numbers, which don’t include online sales, are another challenge in what has largely been a disappointing holiday shopping season for stores. The two-month period that begins on Nov. 1 is important for retailers because they can make up to 40 per cent of their annual sales during that time.

Retailers started the season cautiously optimistic. But after a strong start through most of November — Shoppertrak said sales were up 3.4 per cent for the month — stores have found it increasingly hard to attract shoppers into stores despite big discounts and expanded hours during the final days.

“It’s been a mediocre December,” said Bill Martin, co-founder of ShopperTrak.

Karen McDonald, a spokeswoman at Taubman Centers, which owns or operates 28 malls, estimated that business for the week that ended Sunday unchanged to up mid-single digit percentage compared with a year ago.

“I felt for sure it was going to be gangbusters. But it was just OK,” McDonald said.

At the Garden State Plaza Mall in Paramus, N.J. on Saturday, Abercrombie & Fitch, AnnTaylor and Express had 50 per cent sales, while Aeropostale was discounting its entire assortment up to 70 per cent. Still, shoppers were cautious.

Barbara Jackson, 45, was one of them. She said she’s capping her holiday budget at $1,500 — half of what she spent last year. That’s because Jackson, an aide to the elderly, is earning less than last year.

“I am more budget conscious,” Jackson said.

Shoppertrak estimates that holiday sales at stores so far are up 2 per cent to $218.4 billion compared with the same period last year. That’s below the 2.4 per cent forecast for the two-month period, but the company is standing by that estimate with a few days left before Christmas and a little over a week before the season end.

The National Retail Federation, the nation’s largest retail group, also said it’s still standing by its forecast that sales in stores and online combined will be up 3.9 per cent to $602.1 billion.

But even online sales, which had been a bright spot for much of the season, aren’t growing at the expected pace.

Online spending from home and work desktop computers in the U.S. from Nov. 1 through Dec. 15 was up 9 per cent from the same period last year to $37.8 billion, according to the most available data from comScore.

That’s below the 14 per cent growth the Internet research firm is forecasting for the season. But comScore still expects online sales to grow at the pace for the season, but the category only accounts for about 11 per cent of spending in the three months that include the holiday shopping season.

Final sales figures for the holiday shopping season are expected in January.

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