Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Happy Shoppers, Stressed-Out Retailers

A 1 percent increase in Christmas-season retail sales ought to be good news. Many U.S. retailers, though, had staffed and stocked for a 4 percent increase, so in their budgets, the 1 percent increase looks like a 3 percent shortfall.

It was a record Thanksgiving and Black Friday, but the rest of that weekend was slow. December too was slow, with the weeks before and after Christmas registering declines at most stores compared to last year. Shoppers did not get to see much of these declines, though. The stores were plenty busy when the shoppers were there to see them.

My sense is that shoppers were more happy with this Christmas shopping season than with either of the last two years. It is the retailers who are stressed out this time. But if shoppers got what they wanted in 2012, it may not be so easy for retailers to push their customers to buy more next time around. It was stressful enough this time, retail workers tell me, and that was pushing for a 1 percent increase.