updated 1/1/2006 3:51:05 PM ET 2006-01-01T20:51:05

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which made a big push this holiday season to woo customers with aggressive discounts and marketing, estimated that its December sales will meet only the low end of its forecast.

The world's largest retailer said Saturday that sales at stores open for at least a year, known as same-store sales, are expected to be up 2.2 percent in December. The forecast was for a 2 percent to 4 percent gain. Same-store sales are considered the best indicator of a retailers' health.

The company said that general merchandise sales outpaced demand for food.

Wal-Mart, which stumbled during the holiday 2004 shopping season, came out with a holiday campaign two weeks earlier than last year. The retailer had a solid start to the season, but like many merchants, struggled with shoppers delaying their purchases longer than last year.

Wal-Mart, whose gift card sales beat expectations this season, is counting on a big sales boost in January from gift card redemptions. Gift card sales are recorded only when customers redeem them.

To entice customers with the newfound money to splurge on regular-priced goods, Wal-Mart rushed in new spring assortments and new outerwear for the day after Christmas. Meanwhile, it pushed discounted holiday goods to the back corner.

Wal-Mart and many other major retailers are expected to announce their final December results on Thursday.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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