U.S. retailers posted 4 percent gain in holiday sales for 2003

Monday, January 5, 2004

Area retailers, boosted by last-minute and post-Christmas spending and the increased use of gift cards, posted a bigger holiday season than last year while many U.S. retailers probably had their best season in at least four years.

Sales at U.S. stores open at least a year rose about 4 percent in November and December from the same period a year ago, the largest gain since 5.4 percent in 1999, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers.

Four percent is modest, considering that stores were hoping to capitalize on a recovering economy, but it's much better than 2002's 2.2 percent.

"Yeah, we did do better than last year," said Ryan Hoskins, co-manager of the Hobby Lobby in Cape Girardeau. "The weather was the biggest improvement this year. Last year, we had some ice and snow that kept people away. I think it was a pretty good year for us."

The fourth quarter is crucial for retail businesses. Holiday retail sales account for about 23 percent of total annual retail revenue.

Other figures from holiday sales include:

MasterCard said total sales were up 6.5 percent from Nov. 28 through Dec. 24 compared to a year ago.

Internet and catalog sales rose 6.5 percent.

Consumer electronics and appliance stores were up 6.7 percent.

Sales at home furnishing stores increased 3.9 percent.

But department stores were up only 1.65 percent, and sales at toy stores declined 7.7 percent, though local department stores said they were happy with sales figures.

"We did fine," said Famous-Barr store manager Sharon Ebershohl. "We made our sales plan and did better than last year. We're pleased with it."

The city of Cape Girardeau won't receive revenue from December's sales taxes until April, according to the city auditor's office. Through October, the city collected $6.45 million, almost the exact figure collected through October last year.

On a national scale, it was a late spending splurge that helped improve sales for many retailers. Some local businesses said the same thing happened here.

"The first two weeks of December were real strong," said Lowe's Home Improvement Center manager Tyler Russom. "Then the week before Christmas tapered off, and then the week of Christmas picked up again."

The use of increasingly popular gift cards also helped push up sales after Christmas, since the cards don't count until after they are used.

"So many people are bringing back the gift cards," Russom said. "That seems like the gift of choice. If you don't know what to get somebody, it's the gift cards."

The holiday shopping season has also extended into January as people shop for after-Christmas bargains.

"We're still seeing a lot of that," said Kmart assistant manager Darren Neader. "All our Christmas merchandise is 60 percent off, so we still have Christmas shoppers."


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