Business

Triangle holiday sales outpace national trend

Posted December 26, 2012 2:01 a.m. EST
Updated December 26, 2012 4:14 p.m. EST

— Retailers nationwide reported a disappointing holiday season, but those in the Triangle said that sales were up from a year ago.

Melody Mitterling, who works at Handpicked in Raleigh's Cameron Village, said shoppers were still steadily coming in Wednesday despite the wet weather. 

"I wasn't looking forward to coming in with the rain, but time is flying by because we've been busy," she said.

Kim Batts and her mother, Jane, saved their shopping until Wednesday. "Instead of buying for each other before Christmas, we just shop after because everything is on sale," she said.

The rain did not discourage them. "Who cares," Jane Batts laughed. "Less people out."

Austin Harrington, at Cantina 18, said he saw a successful season as well. 

"Sales are consistently up through the holidays," he said. "Cameron Village is a popular shopping area. We can get a lot of cross-traffic between employees and shoppers, so it keeps us all busy."

Sales of electronics, clothing, jewelry and home goods in the two months before Christmas increased 0.7 percent compared with last year, according to the MasterCard Advisors SpendingPulse report.

That was below the healthy 3 to 4 percent growth that analysts had expected — and it was the worst year-over-year performance since 2008, when spending shrank sharply during the Great Recession. In 2011, retail sales climbed 4 to 5 percent during November and December, according to ShopperTrak.

This year's shopping season was marred by bad weather, including the recovery from Hurricane Sandy in the northeast, and rising uncertainty about the economy in the face of possible tax hikes and spending cuts early next year. Some analysts say the massacre of schoolchildren in Newtown, Conn., earlier this month may also have chipped away at shoppers' enthusiasm.

The weather slowed foot traffic a bit Wednesday at Learning Express in North Hills. It was a second disappointing day after a brief power outage that forced some stores to close early on Saturday, traditionally one of the biggest shopping days of the year.

"We busted open light sticks, we were wearing miner helmets, walking around with flashlights," Brand Manager Clayton Welch said. 

We actually were not off of our sales goals by very much on that day when the lights went out, so we’re very thankful," he said.

Retailers still have time to make up lost ground. The final week of December accounts for about 15 percent of the month's sales, said Michael McNamara, vice president for research and analysis at MasterCard Advisors SpendingPulse.

Holiday sales are a crucial indicator of the economy's strength. November and December account for up to 40 percent of annual sales for many retailers. 

Spending by consumers accounts for 70 percent of overall economic activity, so the eight-week period encompassed by the SpendingPulse data is seen as a critical time not just for retailers but for manufacturers, wholesalers and companies at every other point along the supply chain.

Shopping over the past two months was weakest in areas affected by Sandy and a more recent winter storm in the Midwest. Sales declined by 3.9 percent in the mid-Atlantic and 1.4 percent in the Northeast compared with last year. They rose 0.9 percent in the north central part of the country.

The West and South posted gains of between 2 percent and 3 percent, still weaker than the 3 percent to 4 percent increases expected by many retail analysts.