NEW YORK — The nation’s retailers had a modest start to the holiday shopping season as consumers jammed stores for bargains in the early morning hours Friday but seemed to lose interest as the weekend wore on.
“There was a lot of hype, a lot of promotions and lot of people, but the results were on the lukewarm side,” said Michael P. Niemira, chief economist at the International Council of Shopping Centers.
According to ShopperTrak RCT Corp., which monitors sales at more than 45,000 retail outlets, sales for the combined Friday and Saturday period slipped 0.5 percent to $13.4 billion, from the year-ago period.
Analysts said there was heavy shopper traffic for the day after Thanksgiving, but consumers apparently lost their enthusiasm once those early bird specials were over.
“If you give Americans a bargain, they will get up whatever time to take advantage of it. But I don’t think this weekend turned out to be as big as retailers hoped,” said C. Britt Beemer, chairman of America’s Research Group, based in Charleston, S.C.
Discounters and electronics stores, which drew crowds of people clamouring for discounted electronics items, appeared to be the big winners. But analysts said business at apparel stores seemed more mixed.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which stumbled in the 2004 holiday season by not offering enough discounts, was back in the game, attracting shoppers in the pre-dawn hours Friday with discounted TVs and digital cameras. Its efforts appeared to have paid off; it reported better-than expected sales Friday and estimated that November sales at stores open at least a year would be up 4.3 percent.
J.C. Penney Co. Inc. said traffic and sales over the weekend were better than expected, but didn’t give details. Toys R Us Inc. spokeswoman Kathleen Waugh said the company was pleased with results for the weekend, and cited such best-selling bargains as Mattel Inc.’s Barbie Fashion Mall and MGA’s Bratz doll styling head.
While the Thanksgiving weekend marked the official start of the holiday shopping season for stores on land, Monday kicks off the season for online retailers. So far, early signs bode well for the rest of the season.
Non-travel online retail sales rose 22 percent to $1.89 billion for the week ending Friday, compared to year-ago period, according to comScore Networks, an Internet research firm.
Nielsen/NetRatings said traffic to online shopping sites grew 29 percent year-over-year on Friday.
Yahoo! Shopping reported that the number of visits to its site rose 52 percent on Friday, better than the 30 percent jump expected.
Video: Holiday sales breakdown Forecasts for holiday shopping have improved in recent weeks amid declining gasoline prices. But gas is still more expensive than this time last year, and shoppers face higher heating bills this winter. Given such challenges, stores tried to lure shoppers with more enticing bargains, expanded hours on Friday and other gimmicks.
According to a Goldman Sachs & Co. report, released Monday, 31 mall-based apparel retailers discounted more heavily on Friday than a year ago. In 2004, only 23 merchants did more price cutting than the previous year.
A clearer picture will emerge Thursday, when retailers report sales results for all of November.
Many shoppers were budgeting in the early going.
At a Target store in Warwick, R.I., Dwight Garrett was pleased with a DVD player, marked down to $29.97 from $44.99.
“You can’t beat the price,” said Garrett, who had traveled with his wife from Plainfield, Conn., to shop at Target, Penney and other stores along a road of big-box outlets in Warwick.
Others weren’t satisfied with the discounts.
“There’s nothing special about the deals. They’re the same as any other weekend sale,” said Nikhilesh Agarwal of York, Pa., who was shopping at Towson Town Center in Towson, Md.
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