(CBS MoneyWatch)-- Shoppers, many armed with gift cards, are flocking to stores in the days after Christmas to
redeem them and return unwanted presents. There are more bargains to
he had as retailers try to clear their shelves to make room for their
spring lines, according to Bill Martin, founder of ShopperTrak, which
tracks sales in bricks-and-mortar stores.
"Today is the number 7
shopping day of the year," he said in an interview Thursday. "It's
important...They will be heavily promoting this weekend."
Retailers are eager for shoppers to redeem their gift cards because they
don't count as revenue until that occurs. Many retailers such as
Wal-Mart and Target were expecting a tough holiday season and early indications are that's
what happened. Data from MasterCard Advisers estimates that U.S. holiday
sales rose 2.3 percent this year, a growth rate that the company
considers to be "decent."
While that's better than last year's
0.7 percent gain, it lags the 3.9 percent increase forecast by the
National Retail Federation. The two surveys measure sales differently
and that may account for some of the discrepancy. A MasterCard
spokeswoman had no comment on the NRF's numbers. MasterCard estimates
total retail sales rose 3.5 percent. The NRF couldn't be reached.
6 fewer shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas, as well as
bad weather in some parts of the country for the final two weekends
clearly had an effect on sales," says Sarah Quinlan, a MasterCard,
senior vice president, in a press release. "Yet holiday sales were a
clear improvement over last year's weaker numbers."
Jewelry was a
bright spot and was one of the few categories to post a gain over last
year while apparel saw most growth, according to MasterCard. Luxury
items and electronics were flat and apparel saw modest growth.
E-commerce sales posted a double-digit gain as Amazon.com reported what it called its "best ever" holiday season.
Global Insight economist Chris Christopher, whose calculations are
identical to the NRF's, is expecting a 3.2 percent gain as retailers
were forced to offer steep discounts to move merchandise. That would be
the weakest growth since 2009.
"The retailers are taking a hit on
per-unit margins," he said in an interview, adding that consumer prices
for goods excluding food and energy have been declining for months.
there have been plenty of headlines about stores opening on
Thanksgiving and not closing their doors in the days leading up to
Christmas, most experts have said that these gimmicks don't cause
shoppers to spend more than they would have otherwise. Instead, they
are pushing already-expected sales earlier.