Holiday Traffic and Sales Show Steep Declines

Foot traffic fell a 15 percent, year-over-year, and retail sales declined 4.4 percent, year-over-year, at U.S. malls and shopping centers for the 2008 holiday shopping season (November-December), according to ShopperTrak.

Both the traffic and sales numbers represent record lows since the Chicago-based retail intelligence company began compiling this data in 2003. The firm originally forecasted a 9.9 percent foot traffic decline with a 0.1 percent rise in retail sales.

Foot traffic for the month of November fell 16.7 percent as the ’08 calendar shift which placed Thanksgiving a week later might have contributed to the decrease in monthly traffic, according to Shopper Trak’s National Retail Traffic Index. December year-over-year traffic fell 14.1 percent as consumer activity improved late in the month but didn’t salvage the season for retailers.

ShopperTrak’s National Retail Sales Estimate reports November and December sales fell 4.3 percent and 4.5 percent respectively as compared to last year marking four consecutive months of year-over-year declines in retail sales. October sales levels fell 1.4 percent while September slipped 2 percent versus 2007.

“The fact that the holiday shopping season didn’t provide the annual relief retailers were hoping for, yet continued the trend of declining sales for the fourth consecutive month, is significant for the industry heading into what will most likely be a tumultuous Q1 in 2009,” said Bill Martin, co-founder of ShopperTrak.    

Black Friday weekend kicked off the season posting a 0.9 percent retail sales increase and a 19.3 percent total U.S. foot traffic, according to ShopperTrak.

Breaking down the weekend, Black Friday started the season in surprisingly strong fashion, with shoppers spending $10.6 billion throughout the day, a 3 percent increase over Black Friday 2007, according to ShopperTrak. While retail sales typically begin to level off following the Black Friday spending rush, Saturday ($6 billion) and Sunday ($3.5 billion), sales patterns seemed to reflect the turbulent economy as each day posted a decrease of 0.8 and 2.3 percent, respectively, as compared to 2007. 

Total U.S. weekend foot traffic fell 19.3 percent for the same three-day period in 2007 – as Black Friday (-18.1 percent), Saturday (-16.8 percent) and Sunday (- 23.1 percent) all posted double-digit declines versus last year. This equals the largest three-day SRTI total U.S. foot traffic decline for the weekend after Thanksgiving since ShopperTrak begin compiling this data. 

Moving ahead, ShopperTrak reported total U.S. foot traffic for the last weekend before Christmas (12/19 – 12/21) fell 23.7 percent as compared to the same weekend in 2007, while retail sales fell 5 percent the same period.

Weekend total U.S. foot traffic posted a significant decline as inclement weather throughout most of the country combined with current economic conditions slowed visits to retail locations.

In addition, the 2008 calendar shift most likely influenced weekend traffic levels as “Super Saturday” 2007 (12/22/07) received more of a boost from procrastinating shoppers as the day was two days closer to Christmas. Super Saturday weekend 2007 total U.S. foot traffic increased 7 percent versus the same three-day period in 2006. ShopperTrak also reported that traffic for the annually strong Super Saturday (12/20), or final Saturday before Christmas fell 17 percent.

Super Saturday refers to the last Saturday before Christmas.

Looking at retail sales for Christmas week, ShopperTrak’s NRSE reported Super Saturday weekend retail sales declined a sharp 5.3 percent ($21.7 billion), despite Saturday’s slight 0.5 percent ($8.75 billion) increase, compared to last year. Retail sales for Super Saturday weekend 2007 increased 11.5 percent ($22.9 billion) versus the same weekend in 2006.

ShopperTrak’s list of top 2008 holiday shopping days is as follows:

Rank  Day of Week       Date
1        Black Friday       Nov. 28
2        Super Saturday   Dec. 20
3        Friday                 Dec. 26
4        Tuesday              Dec. 23
5        Saturday             Dec. 13
6        Monday              Dec. 22
7        Sunday               Dec. 27
8        Friday                Nov. 29
9       Saturday             Dec. 21
10     (Black) Saturday Dec. 19

“This holiday season we truly saw an efficient consumer who planned trips to retail locations around deeply discounted items via door buster sales and other promotions throughout the shopping period,” Martin said. “So while shoppers did spend during the season, our data suggests most activity occurred during the heaviest discounted periods like Black Friday and later in the year on Super Saturday and the days leading up to Christmas, ultimately negatively impacting the bottom line.”

Based on holiday season performance and the current state of the economy, ShopperTrak is predicting a 16.4 percent total U.S. foot traffic decline with a 4 percent GAFO retail sales dip for the first quarter of 2009, indicating relief for retailers may be several months away.