ShopperTrak: All Signs Point to Rosy Holiday Shopping Season

Consumers will shop more and visit more stores during the peak holiday shopping months of November and December, says ShopperTrak, the retail foot-traffic counting firm.

National retail sales, when compared to the same period last year, are expected to rise 3.3 percent during November and December, and retail foot traffic will be up by 2.8 percent, the company says.

Holiday sales and foot traffic historically account for about 20 percent of annual retail activity. The retail sales and traffic holiday forecast is a key marker of the nation's economic health. ShopperTrak's 3.3 percent holiday sales increase forecast follows 34 (of the past 35) months of year-over-year U.S. retail sales growth. The expected increase of 2.8 percent in foot traffic trumps the 2011 holiday season's 2.2 percent traffic decrease from 2010.

"Retailers have reason to be optimistic about this season. It's clear that foot traffic is increasing and month-over-month sales continue to be better than expected," said ShopperTrak founder Bill Martin. "In fact, our shopper visit data tell us that consumers are visiting more stores than last year. This influx of traffic will present opportunities for retailers to convert these visitors into buyers, especially with the extended holiday shopping season."

Long season begins with election

Thirty-two days lie between Black Friday and Christmas this year, the longest interval possible. Weekends typically are busy shopping periods and this year's holiday calendar provides two extra ones: a full weekend in the holiday shopping season, plus a weekend between Christmas and New Year's Eve, as those holidays fall mid-week. Hanukkah falls 11 days earlier than last year. This presents retailers with a chance for a sales boost early in the season.

"The calendar provides retailers unusual opportunities for success this season," said Martin, "but store managers will need to understand how the 2012 calendar differentiates this holiday season from past seasons. Keeping stores open for longer hours across an extended time between holidays adds to operating costs. Managers need to plan optimal staffing, scheduling, marketing and advertising with the calendar to achieve best results."

Typically, retailers market heavily in October and early November to drive store foot traffic as the holidays begin. In a presidential election year, however, political ads dominate the airwaves and reduce the impact of retailer marketing efforts. ShopperTrak's analysis reveals shopping activity tapers off before national elections – with a decline of 6.3 percent the week before voting in 2008 – but rebounds quickly after the results are announced. Consumers who were distracted during the election, however, generally dive into the holiday shopping season after the ballots are counted. Store managers must have their marketing and advertising ready to go on Nov. 7 to capture the full sales potential of this holiday season.

Good news for apparel: foot traffic up

According to ShopperTrak, foot traffic will increase 3.5 percent over last season in the historically popular apparel and accessories category. Sales will increase 4 percent compared to 2011.

ShopperTrak expects foot traffic to drop steeply by 8 percent in the electronics and appliance sector. Sales, however, will increase slightly, by 1.5 percent over last year.

"Some of the traffic decline in the electronics and appliance category can be attributed to consumers going online to research premium-priced purchases or to purchase items at discounted prices," said Martin. "You can't, however, ignore the fact that 92 percent of total GAFO retail sales still occur in brick-and-mortar stores. Retailers who align their in-store and online strategies to provide multiple touch points and distinct value offerings for consumers will come out on top."

ShopperTrak measures foot-traffic in more than 50,000 locations in the United States and analyzes the data in a proprietary, econometric model to create its ShopperTrak National Retail Sales Estimate (NRSE) of general merchandise, apparel and accessories, furniture and other sales (GAFO). Its estimate precedes the federal government's official reports by several weeks and since January 2005 it has been accurate to within a 3 percent margin. Forecasted numbers may change with any adjustments in the nation's unemployment rate, consumer sentiment, tax policies and other geopolitical situations.

About the ShopperTrak National Retail Sales Estimate (NRSE)
The ShopperTrak National Retail Sales Estimate (NRSE) provides a nationwide benchmark of GAFO retail sales. The NRSE is derived from the U.S. Commerce Department's GAFO (general merchandise, apparel, furniture, sporting goods, electronics, hobby, books and other related store sales) statistic, as well as ShopperTrak's proprietary industry intelligence on shopper foot traffic and sales. NRSE provides retailers, investors and policy makers the most accurate and timely information on consumer sales trends available today.

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