U.S. Retail Sales Rose 4.5% in Week Before Christmas

U.S. retail sales rose 4.5 percent last week compared to a year earlier as shoppers took advantage of last-minute deals and extended hours in the final shopping days before Christmas

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Sales for the week ended December 24 rose 0.9 percent from the previous week, according to the New York-based International Council of Shopping Centers and Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS). That compares to a 3.4 percent year-over-year gain the week earlier.

Macy’s (NYSE:M), Toys “R” Us, and Family Dollar Stores (NYSE:FDO) were among chains extending their hours on Christmas Eve, which this year fell on a Saturday, in hopes of luring in bargain-hunting shoppers.

“Retailers who gave deals found that consumers would spend,” said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at NPD Group in Port Washington, New York. “The holiday was better than expected. Consumers who were tired of living in this spending cocoon went out and bought what they needed and wanted.”

The National Retail Federation predicts retail sales will rise 3.8 percent this holiday season, compared with a 5.2 percent gain last year, while the ICSC reiterated its forecast for December comparable-store sales to advance 3.5 to 4 percent.

Almost all Toys “R” Us locations in the U.S. remained opened from December 20 to Christmas Eve — or 112 hours straight. Family Dollar operated on Christmas for the first time, opening half of its 7,000-plus stores from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Many retailers continued to dangle deep discounts right up through Christmas Eve. Kohl’s (NYSE:KSS) offered an extra 10 percent off kitchen electronics and bedding already marked down as much as 60 percent.

U.S. retailers kept stores open longer than ever throughout the holiday season. Almost all 600 Toys “R” Us U.S. locations remained open from Dec. 20 to Christmas Eve — or 112 hours straight.

“December started slowly and built as it got closer to Christmas,” said Madison Riley, a retail strategist at consulting firm Kurt Salmon. “The final week was very strong, helped by that extra Saturday before Christmas.”

However, steep discounts weren’t always enough to turn out customers, as many Americans did their Christmas shopping online.

Today, comScore (NASDAQ:SCOR) reported holiday season retail e-commerce spending for the first 56 days of the November-December 2011 holiday season. To date, consumers have spent $35.3 billion online this holiday shopping season, marking a 15-percent increase over last year, while online sales totaled $2.8 billion in the week ended December 25, a 16-percent increase over the corresponding week last year, significantly more than the 4.5 percent overall increase in retail sales for the week.

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To contact the reporter on this story: Emily Knapp at staff.writers@wallstcheatsheet.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Damien Hoffman at editors@wallstcheatsheet.com

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