'Comeback Christmas' Sets Record

Holiday shoppers continued to unleash three years of pent-up demand as the season winds up, on their way to setting a new record of over $521B, blasting through 2007’s pre-recession record of $508 billion, according to Customer Growth Partners. Based on CGP’s proprietary mall surveys and government retail data -- and despite Sunday’s Northeast blizzard -- the sales growth confirmed CGP’s +5% holiday sales forecast. [CGP’s data include e-commerce, unlike NRF, which excludes the same.]

“This is what a good retail Christmas looks like, with the best year-over-year growth since 2005’s +6.1%,” said Craig Johnson, president, CGP, New Canaan, Conn., a consulting and research firm serving the retail and other consumer industries. “If this final week maintains the momentum, we might even see the fastest growth since the +8.8% in 1999, The American consumer is back, big time. He has single-handedly strapped the economy on his back, climbed out of the ditch, and is off and running -- despite 10% unemployment.”

Other key findings of CGP’s research:

  • The strong growth extends across merchandise categories -- apparel, toys, electronics, home, jewelry -- although electronics unit sales growth has been tempered by TV price deflation.
  • The solid momentum also spans the price spectrum, from Tiffany and Nordstrom upmarket, to Macy’s and Kohl’s in the middle tier, and Target and the dollar stores at the value end. Virtually all channels and formats are seeing good year to year growth, including most mall anchors, many (though not all) mall inline specialty stores, outlet malls, and the Internet -- still the fastest growing sector, over 13% year-over-year.
  • The hottest products of the year included the Xbox Kinect (routinely sold out in the 250GB version both in stores and online), iPad (with generally good availability), eReaders (widely available from multiple sources), and smartphones (widely available).
  • Toys that have been routinely sold out since early December include Barbie Glam Jet, Spynet Video Watch, Lego Hogwarts Castle, Monster High and Lalaloopsy dolls, Fisher-Price iXL Learning System, and the NERF Raider Rapid Fire CS-35.
  • Some of the retailers that are seeing the strongest growth are “home-related retailers that have been in deep freeze for four years,” Johnson said, such as Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Williams-Sonoma, which are having outstanding rebound seasons.
  • Luxury sales, which fell off a cliff after the Lehman debacle in September 2008 before recovering somewhat, are seeing their strongest growth since 2006, rising 14%.
  •  For retailers that reduced their cost structure during the recession, the combination of lower SG&A costs and stronger sales will yield exceptionally strong earnings leverage.

“This has been an exceptional holiday season for retailers, the best in years,” Johnson said. “If you don’t make a lot of money this quarter, you should be in another business.”

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