Retailers give season C- grade

An international shopping center association called it the “weakest holiday season since at least 19
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An international shopping center association called it the “weakest holiday season since at least 1970.” In New York, that translates to a C- grade.

Sales results released Tuesday by international and state trade groups confirmed what many half-empty mall parking lots and 70 percent discount stickers had hinted at throughout the holiday season: that what is usually retailers’ busiest time of the year had turned into a five-week slog. And in New York, while the season ended anticlimatically, it at least had what the Retail Council of New York State called a “modest end.”

New York retailers’ last-ditch effort to save Christmas paid off as they unleashed an arsenal of deep discounts to combat crippling back-to-back weekend storms and a recession. Fifty-one percent of retailers statewide reported week-before-Christmas sales were the same or better than a year earlier, compared to 52.5 percent for the same period of 2007, according to the Albany trade group’s Holiday Sales Watch report.

However, only 48 percent of merchants said after-Christmas sales were the same or better, compared to about 75 percent a year earlier.

“A perfect storm of a growing recession, plummeting consumer confidence and ill-timed winter snow and ice produced a generally gloomy holiday selling season,” said Retail Council President and Chief Executive Officer James Sherin said.

Although retailers entered the holiday season expecting soft sales, many were surprised by a stronger-than-expected turnout for the Black Friday weekend. But that early optimism waned as recession-shocked shoppers wrapped up their shopping plans early instead of just getting started during the season’s opening weekend. In all, New York retailers gave the five-week period a C- grade, down slightly from last year’s C+.

The International Council of Shopping Centers also reported that U.S. chain store sales for the week ending Dec. 27 declined over the year by 1.8 percent, following the previous week’s slump of 0.6 percent. The New York trade group chief economist, Michael Niemira, called this year’s holiday season was the worst one in at least 38 years.

McNiera’s statement appears to dash an earlier forecast from the National Retail Federation. Prior to Black Friday, the New York trade group predicted this holiday season’s sales growth rate would fall to 2.2 percent, the lowest rate since 2002’s 1.3 percent increase. The season’s 10-year average increase was 4.4 percent.

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