Traffic Down, Sales Up for Christmas Week

Foot traffic at U.S. malls and shopping centers for Christmas week (12/21 – 12/27) fell 4.9 percent year-over-year, according to ShopperTrak’s Shopper Retail Traffic Index. Meanwhile, retail sales for the same week increased 21.2%, according to the company’s National Retail Sales Estimate.

ShopperTrak also noted that the downturn in foot traffic was slight compared to the dramatic traffic declines retailers have experienced so far this season.

On a week-over-week level, shopper traffic showed a significant increase as the 2008 calendar shift allowed more of a boost from procrastinating shoppers looking for deeply discounted items and last-minute deals on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, according to the Chicago-based company. In addition, Dec. 26 provided a much needed traffic lift as consumers took advantage of post-holiday sales and began redeeming gift cards. Total U.S. foot traffic for the week ending Dec. 27 versus the previous week ending Dec. 20 rose a strong 15.5 percent.

ShopperTrak’s NRSE reported both yearly and weekly sales showed increases last week as shoppers responded to both pre- and post-Christmas sales and promotions throughout the week. The 2008 calendar shift significantly helped year-over-year performance as more consumers shopped Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday in 2008 than in corresponding days in 2007. But, last week’s strong week-over-week performance highlighted the fact that many consumers were waiting for discounted items just prior to Christmas and on Dec. 26 ($8.4 billion) to redeem gift cards and search for post-holiday sales. Sales for the week ending Dec. 27 versus the prior week ending Dec. 20 increased 12.4 percent.

“Annually, we see a boost just prior to Christmas from procrastinating shoppers and that trend continued last week despite the various economic pressures on the American consumer,” said Bill Martin, co-founder of ShopperTrak. “Both the traffic and sales results of this past week indicate efficient shoppers were focusing their retail visits to stores offering value for their money with deeply discounted items, which we’ve seen throughout the 2008 season.”

Despite Christmas week’s strong performance, Martin said ShopperTrak’s holiday season forecast has been adjusted to a 2.3 percent retail sales decline with a 16 percent traffic decline. Initially, the company predicated a 0.1 percent retail sales increase with a 9.9 percent dip in total U.S. foot traffic.

“We expect retail performance will dive over the next couple of weeks as retailers stop offering deeply discounted items and sales and traffic levels return to seasonal low points following the holidays,” Martin said. “Looking ahead, retailers will most likely need to get creative to avoid the struggles most analysts have predicted in Q1 as the current economy continues to influence consumer behavior and shopping patterns.”