The first post-Christmas numbers point to a record high season at U.S. retail. It is not that shoppers were buying more — rather, we bought quite a bit less than last year — but the scarcity of deep discounts in stores meant that we spent more than in any previous year. The smaller discounts and limited stock should also mean that the season was highly profitable for stores. To be sure, some segments did better than others. Toys, automobiles, and clothing were down, while department stores, online retailers, and payment cards did especially well.
Yesterday at after-Christmas sales, I saw plenty of shoppers but not a lot of discounts. At one store, the heavily promoted after-Christmas clearance sale had items marked down by 1/3 or 1/2, but only 1 percent of items in the store were included in the sale. At another store, customers who bought multiple items could save 25 percent — hardly the deep discounts we saw before and after Christmas in many stores over the last few years.