'Marketplace' Report: Retail Sales

Early tallies of weekend retail sales show a rise over 2005, but the overall seasonal numbers are not as good as analysts expected. Janet Babin of Marketplace fills Madeleine Brand in on the details.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Back now with DAY TO DAY.

It's probably the last thing on your mind right now, but retailers are hoping you have a few more trips to the mall in you. A report out today, says sales during the weekend before Christmas were strong, but lower than expected. I'm joined now by MARKETPLACE's Janet Babin. And Janet, so I guess we didn't spend enough for retailers to be happy this Christmas season.

JANET BABIN: Yeah, Madeleine. It depends on how you look at it, but according to one benchmark, sales on so-called Super Saturday - that's the Saturday before Christmas - they were strong. Purchases totaled $8.7 billion, and that's 60 percent higher than the same day last year.

And also, combined sales over the weekend passed $16 billion, that's a lot of shopping, and that's 22 percent higher than last year. These numbers come from Shopper Track's national retail sales estimate.

BRAND: Well, that sounds pretty good, billions and billions of dollars, but just not good enough?

BABIN: Yeah. It turns out that analysts and retailers had forecast that sales would be even higher than that. Consumers, it turns out, spent more the Friday after Thanksgiving than they did on the Saturday before Christmas, and that's not what analysts had hoped or expected.

So even though it was a big weekend for retailers, overall, the season seems to be coming up a bit short in terms of traffic and overall sales. And you have consider that a lot of stores end up doing a good portion of their business in the month or so before the winter holidays, so even if sales are off just a little bit, it can have a big effect on the bottom line.

BRAND: Okay, so I bet a lot of people got those gift cards for Christmas and Hanukkah, and retailers are hoping that they go out and spend and use those gift cards maybe a bit more, right?

BABIN: That's right because, you know, even though gift cards, you know, they're purchased usually before the holiday, they aren't counted on most retailers balance sheets until after they're spent. So a lot of stores just realize now they have they have to start counting January as part of that holiday season.

Also, as you mentioned, because who goes and spends the gift card? I mean, I don't think I've ever managed to spend just the amount on that card.

BRAND: Right, right. I always spend a little bit more. Any speculation on why consumers held back this year?

BABIN: Well, there are a lot of theories, especially in the timing. You know, Hanukkah cam earlier this year than last year, and Christmas fell on a Monday. I also spoke to a few shoppers in the Northeast and Midwest who said they just weren't motivated this year.

It's been pretty warm in places like New York and Cleveland, and people were out enjoying the weather instead of shopping, but you guessed it, Madeleine. That might have led to an increase in online shopping. According to Com-store Networks(ph), our online shopping was up 26 percent this year over last.

And coming up later today on MARKETPLACE, we profile one of the hottest holiday gifts of the season this year: plastic surgery.

BRAND: Thank you. We'll be listening for that. Janet Babin of public radio's daily business show MARKETPLACE, produced by American Public Media.

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