An early take on holiday 2012 sales

RetailWire panelists had a chance right after Christmas to provide an early post-mortem on holiday 2012 sales. (And “post-mortem” may turn out to be the correct phrase.) We’ll know more when stores report December comps on January 3rd, but the initial consensus is one of disappointment. Here’s my recap:

The NRF (not cited in the article) continues to stick to its overly optimistic forecast of over 4% gains, but the rest of the numbers suggest otherwise. I predicted increases in the 2-3% ranges based on BTS sales and the consistent but modest gains all year. If the numbers turn out to be flat, it’s a big disappointment — especially with two extra selling days this year between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

When stores start reporting comp sales next week, they will cite a variety of reasons: The lingering effects of Hurricane Sandy (which may have helped DIY store but nobody else in the region), the “fiscal cliff” issue (which looked like “noise” until the last critical weekend before Christmas), and the terrible events at Newtown. But the numbers are still disappointing given the overall upbeat economic forecast and the amount of newness in stores this season.

The next big challenge to retailers will be how quickly they can liquidate seasonal goods. Some serious cold weather since mid-December will help, but stores that I visited even a week ago were still loaded with more coats and sweaters than they need. Long-term, however, apparel retailers need to figure out how to combat the move toward electronics gift-giving (with tablets and phones continuing to drive sales this year).


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