We are still weeks away until we get all of the hard data about the holiday retail sales season, but the early numbers are trickling in. It appears that it was not a very merry Shopmas. We certainly did not see the 13% the National Retail Federation claimed was occurring this season.

Some of the early data:

• For October 28 through Christmas Eve, retail sales for the holidays rose just 0.7% versus 2011 (MasterCard SpendingPulse, a measure of credit card usage)

• 2012 looks like the worst holiday-shopping season since 2009, with sales up ~2.8% versus 5.8% jump in 2011 (Customer Growth Partners uses mixed sources)

• Online shopping was up, with estimates ranging from 8.4% (SpendingPulse) to 16% (comScore) Note that online adoption has been driving double digit gains for the past decade plus, and 16% was below average.

The WSJ reports that there were lots of discounting going on as well; this is a double whammy, suggesting soft sales and pressure on margins.

Its still early, and the data could in theory improve. We should hear from retailers starting next week. We get ICSC-Goldman Store Sales at 7:45AM on January 8th, and the Retail Sales report will be released January 15th at 8:30AM.

I’ll keep watching the retail sale data as it trickles out — but its safe to say that the ridiculous NRF claim of a spending increase of 13% was utter, unmitigated nonsense. (Do they exist solely to embarrass journalists?).

More to come in the New Year. . .



Black Friday Skepticism (Finally!) Goes Mainstream (November 23rd, 2012)

Black Friday’s Media Hall of Shame (November 28th, 2012)

November Sales Disappoint; What Happened to Black Friday’s 13%? (November 30th, 2012)


Early Data Show Weak Holiday Sales
WSJ December 25, 2012

Economy Weighs on Shoppers in Final Holiday Dash to Mall
Cotten Timberlake
Bloomberg Dec 24, 2012

Category: Consumer Spending, Really, really bad calls, Retail

Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor implied. If you could repeat previously discredited memes or steer the conversation into irrelevant, off topic discussions, it would be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous.

15 Responses to “2012 Holiday Retail Sales Disappoint”

  1. jhellman says:


    Has anyone ever looked into how much the $ sales figure is inflated by “rebate sales” ? By that, I mean the ones, especially for electronics it seems, where you buy a TV for $500 but there is a $100 rebate on the back end. That leaves the ‘reported’ sales figure at $500 but the actual at $400 when the books are closed. So long as the practice is the same year to year, the relative numbers are a valid comp but I still wonder if there are any other implications (other than the benefit of a little extra sales tax revenue on the higher ticket at the register).


  2. scottinnj says:

    Re: On Line Sales, aren’t we sometime getting near the law of large #? That is as this grows it isn’t possible to keep growing 30% as the denominator rises.

    Also, too I’m not sure if ‘order on line and pick up in store’, an increasingly common feature, gets recorded as on-line or in-store? That’s how I ordered my iPad mini (the one I wanted was only in one Apple store, so I ordered on line to pick up so I could be assured of it not being sold out).

  3. PeterR says:

    In the larger “Big Picture” perhaps an increase in charitable giving will help us all understand that “Retail Sales” may be a metric which indicates not a healthy economy, but a sick one?

    Our Pavlovian addiction to spending money, and “having things” is a trap, one which prescient commentators might consider spotlighting as something to avoid, rather than fomenting the froth of fulfillment. [Hey, nice alliteration.]

    With so many folks suffering heavily after Sandy, it may be a dose of SANITY

  4. PeterR says:

    . . . With so many folks still suffering heavily after Sandy, it may be a dose of SANITY that retail spending is down?

    Further updates about charitable giving rising, if only from the motivation of the approaching “financial cliff,” would be welcome IMO.


  5. BusSchDean says:


    The answer to your large # question is “yes”…and “no.” In some individual retail categories the answer is “yes” (e.g., books and music) and in some the answer is “no” (e.g., Zappos and other non-store shoe retailers, including catalogs, are quite successful yet get only a smidgen of total shoe sales). Overall, online sales constitute only a small percentage of total retail sales, a figure that often also includes car and truck sales.

  6. JimRino says:

    - You might look at the continuing corporate robbery of worker compensation, like switching to catastrophic coverages, where worker out of pocket expense is $1500 before they actually get coverage, and ask Where’s Christmas? It’s in the CEO paycheck, again, this year, like the last 30 years.

    You might also look at Cancer Centers of America. As the oil industry continues to do No Maintenance on their refineries and pipelines, as fracking continues to pollute ground water, with Republican gov’s chocking State EPA’s, you seeing an explosion of Cancer outbreaks, as fracking pollutants are Highly Carcinogenic.

  7. JimRino says:

    - Or, Right to work [ For Poverty Wages ] that’s surely got something to do with low Christmas sales.
    - Or even the Twinkie story, where wages were driven down to Wal-Mart level from good middle class wages. Why kind of Christmas sales do you expect?

  8. constantnormal says:

    … if you pay them, they will spend … decades of being shut out of the expanding national economic pie has its consequences, especially when the banksters line up to steal their homes …

    via non sequitur …


  9. evodevo says:

    All I know is, as a postal worker, we have been run off our feet with packages this year. It was back to 2007 for us. Haven’t been this swamped since before the Great Crash.

  10. NRF, Shop.org Expect Solid Growth This Holiday Season

    (October 2, 2012) Tempered by political and fiscal uncertainties but supported by signs of improvement in consumer confidence, holiday sales this year will increase 4.1 percent to $586.1 billion.* NRF’s 2012 holiday forecast is higher than the 10-year average holiday sales increase of 3.5 percent. Actual holiday sales in 2011 grew 5.6 percent.**

    “This is the most optimistic forecast NRF has released since the recession. In spite of the uncertainties that exist in our economy and among consumers, we believe we’ll see solid holiday sales growth this year,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay. “Variables including an upcoming presidential election, confusion surrounding the ‘fiscal cliff’ and concern relating to future economic growth could all combine to affect consumers’ spending plans, but overall we are optimistic that retailers promotions will hit the right chord with holiday shoppers.”

    Recent government data released shows a crosscurrent of indicators that could impact holiday sales, including unimpressive job and income growth and an unemployment rate stuck at eight percent. However, positive indicators are emerging that show a cautious but capable consumer, such as increases in confidence and home prices.

  11. willid3 says:

    hm…whistling pass the grave yard?
    or what were they drinking/smoking?

  12. Julia Chestnut says:

    Personally, I just love it when they tell me on the news WHY people shopped more/less whatever. How the hell do they know? Causation is notoriously hard to tease out of mere correlation or contemporaneous occurrence, and yet these bozos tell me that Hurricane Sandy and the Newtown shootings dampened sales?!?

    There is only one way to know what people are thinking when they DO something – polling data. There is no way to know what they are thinking when they DON’T do something, because it comes too close to proving a negative. Also in what universe would lower sales not just be because people have no money? Wouldn’t Occam’s law dictate that we at least consider that? I challenge you to find a TV spokesmodel who mentions the idea that wages are stagnant/dropping and costs are rising as a reason for people not buying extraneous crap.

    We can speculate all day about a new mindset that wants to be less materialistic. But absent some hard data, I’d appreciate it if the pundits would stick to telling me beyond a shadow of a doubt what piece of “news” sent the stockmarket reeling/soaring and quit telling me what an entire nation of consumers thinks when it stays home from the mall. Neither has any value, mind you, but the former is at least fairly certain to be entertaining.

  13. 10x25mm says:

    Several years of declining birthrates and weak household formation would top my list of reasons for poor Shopmas sales. This is likely to continue, even if the economy improves…

  14. [...] Retail Federation, holiday sales beat expectations.  While other non-industry publications posted disappointing [...]