Saturday, December 27, 2008

American shopping season 'worst in four decades'

American shopping season 'worst in four decades'

By Stephen Foley in New York
Saturday, 27 December 2008

Retailers opened their doors earlier than usual across the US yesterday, struggling to salvage what they could from the weakest holiday shopping season in four decades.

Chain stores opened their doors at 5.30am and 6am to try to drum up interest in yet more price reductions. Companies have been left with large amounts of unsold merchandise after the holiday shopping failed to live up even to miserable expectations in the world's largest economy. Prices for clothing and some electronics have been slashed by retailers, many of whom offered discounts of up to 75 per cent to shift unwanted stock, or ran special "early bird" promotions yesterday. The department store chain JC Penney even made wake-up calls to customers who signed up online.

According to MasterCard, retail sales excluding petrol fell 4 per cent in the period from 1 December to Christmas compared with last year. The year-on-year decline for November was 2.5 per cent.

Michael Niemira, chief economist at the International Council of Shopping Centers, expects that sales at established stores for November and December will fall 1.5 per cent to 2 per cent, which would make it the weakest holiday season since at least 1969, when the index began.

The online retailer Amazon at least posted positive year-over-year sales results yesterday. In a release titled "'s 14th holiday season is best ever," the company said more than 6.3 million items were ordered on its site worldwide for the peak shopping day, 15 December. On its peak day, it shipped more than 5.6 million units.

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