A Deep Dive Into The December Retail Sales Numbers That Are Making Investors Queasy

Things cooled down a bit in December after a torrid start in November, but the numbers for the two-month period still make for the best holiday shopping season since 2006.

Same-store rose by just more than 3.0 per cent year-over-year–below expectations that same-store sales could rise by about 3.5 per cent for the month.

The number was slightly higher than last year’s gain of about 2.9 per cent.

Overall, same-store sales for November and December combined rose by about 4.0 per cent, the best year-over-year growth since 2006.

Many retailers actually missed analysts’ expectations for the month, which had been heightened after November’s gaudy numbers.

There was a suspicion that November numbers were partially driven by consumers conducting some or all of their holiday shopping earlier than usual. There was the usual Black Friday madness, but many retailers started promotions and discounting even before that. As a result, November possibly accounted for a larger share of the overall holiday shopping season than what we’ve become accustomed to. The strong month may very well have been a sign that consumption patterns were shifting, not necessarily that consumers were going to spend as robustly for the entire season.

In addition, the blizzard in the Northeast may have taken a bite out of after-Christmas sales. If that’s the case, we should see some evidence of those delayed sales in the January figures.

Going forward, expectations are that retail sales will continue to be choppy. Shoppers may have gone out for the holidays, but the high unemployment rate and other factors mean that consumers remain challenged.

My look inside the monthly reports is after the jump. 

Kantar Retail and Retail Sails recorded a 3.2 per cent gain while Retail Metrics said sales rose 3.2 per cent and ICSC estimated that sales rose 3.1 per cent.

ICSC’s tally shows that same-store sales rose 3.1 per cent in December.

ICSC’s numbers are based on 32 retailers.

Here are ICSC’s monthly same-store sales year-over-year changes, not seasonally adjusted, going back to 1993.


Photo: TrafficCourt

Here is ICSC’s index of same-store sales, seasonally adjusted, going back to 1992.


Photo: TrafficCourt

According to Kantar Retail, sales-weighted same-store sales increased 3.2 per cent in December for the 31 retailers that reported numbers. (A pdf with each retailer’s results can be downloaded here.)

Frank Badillo, senior economist at Retail Forward, said in a statement, “It’s clear that November’s great in-store deals robbed spending from December. And in December shoppers were partial to spending online, perhaps encouraged even more by bad weather late in the month. One key exception was upscale department stores, which saw sales growth hold steady or improve in December.”

In addition, Kantar Retail’s ShopperScape survey showed that December sales numbers were also affected by “preliminary indications that shoppers favoured online retailers over store-focused retailers during the holiday.”


Photo: TrafficCourt


Photo: TrafficCourt

Retail Metrics, meanwhile, reported that same-store sales increased 3.2 per cent compared with a prediction for a 3.5 per cent gain. Retail Metrics’ combined November December Holiday Sales were 4.1 per cent, which marks the best holiday comps since 2006 for our Index.

Overall, 48 per cent of retailers beat expectations while 52 per cent missed.

According to Retail Metrics, most retailers are now issuing earnings guidance to the down side with American Eagle, Macy’s, Wet Seal, The Gap, Cato, and Bebe all issuing ranges below consensus.

The picture is also a bit rocky going forward since the year-over-year comparisons “become increasingly difficult in the next three months – January 3.3 per cent, February 4.1 per cent, March 8.7 per cent (Easter impact)”.

Lastly, blog Retail Sails‘ tally showed that the 30 retailers the site tracks posted same-store sales gains of 3.2 per cent and total sales of $54.7 billion. For the holiday season as a whole, Retail Sails put the total sales figure at $91.6 billion and same-store sales gains at 4.1 per cent for the November/December period.

This post originally appeared at TrafficCourt and is republished with permission.

 (Copyright ©2010 Penton Media, Inc. Reprinted with permission of Penton Media, Inc. All rights reserved.)

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