Shoppers crowd malls in Christmas countdown
NEW YORK: Packed malls? Healthy gains in holiday spending? It's beginning to look at least a little like a prerecession Christmas.
Americans spent more on clothing, luxury goods and even furniture, delivering healthy gains across the board, according to MasterCard Advisors' SpendingPulse, which tracks spending across all transactions including cash. The online category continued to be a bright spot. The big exception was consumer electronics, dragged down by deep discounting of TVs amid a glut. That area was virtually unchanged from a year ago.
"This is the first normal Christmas in three years," said Michael McNamara, vice president of research and analysis for SpendingPulse. He said there is "genuine demand" for a variety of products, even higher-ticket items.
Sales of clothing rose 9.8 percent, with particular strength in men's clothing. Jewelry revenue rose 2.6 percent and furniture rose 3.4 percent, according to SpendingPulse, whose data covered the period from Oct. 31 through Saturday compared with the same period a year ago.
Malls reported higher traffic over the weekend, including the Saturday before Christmas, known as "Super Saturday." It's one of the busiest shopping days of the year. Research firm ShopperTrak expects it will be the third-busiest this year. The lack of any major storms nationwide was a boon for shoppers.
The strong numbers are encouraging to retailers, who only this fall remained worried that the inventory they ordered earlier in the year when the economic recovery looked stronger might end up being too much.
But after a slowdown in spending this summer, spending has picked up amid more positive economic signs. McNamara said that there's no evidence of emergency discounting and that stores have appropriate levels of inventory.
Robin Lewis, CEO of The Robin Report, a retail insiders' newsletter, said the spending stems from three factors: consumers have been paying down their debt slightly, the savings rate has decreased slightly and working hours have increased, partly due to seasonal demand.
"Those three things put a few more bucks in their pocket," which becomes signficant
pent-up combined demand.
Still, spending is still below pre-recession levels in many categories. McNamara estimated that furniture is about 20 percent below the level before the Great Recession, while luxury and jewelry sales are about 10 percent below the peak before the big downturn. Clothing sales are recovering faster.
At the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn., the nation's largest mall, Public Relations Director Dan Jasper said a big snowstorm the weekend before that closed the mall early had shoppers packing the mall to catch up. Preliminary reports showed 200,000 came to the mall Saturday, making it one of its busiest days ever and busiest day so far this year. "People are a little panicked. -Afp
CENTURION: South Africa celebrates after winning by an innings and 25 runs during day 5 of the 1st Test match between South Africa and India at SuperSport Park on December 20 in Centurion, South Africa. -Ap