Final holiday push: Empty stores

Foot traffic was down dramatically at stores this Saturday, but those who came spent more than shoppers did last year, according to a report.

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By Julianne Pepitone, contributing writer
Fewer shoppers came to check out this weekend's sales, but those who did spent more than last year's shoppers.
Describe your online shopping habits this holiday season:
  • I知 spending more than last year
  • I知 spending less than last year
  • I never shop online
  • I知 not spending anything this year

NEW YORK ( -- Foot traffic plummeted at stores this Saturday compared to last year but sales increased slightly, suggesting that shoppers are making fewer, more efficient trips for their holiday buying, according to a report released Tuesday.

This holiday season has been a grim one so far for retailers. Research firms predicted last-minute deals would draw in consumers, but traffic on the Saturday before Christmas declined a sharp 17% from the previous year, according to a report from retail research firm ShopperTrak RCT.

However, stores' sales increased 0.5% from the previous year. That's a reverse of last year's buying pattern: "Super Saturday" 2007 saw a 2% increase in foot traffic from the prior year but only a 0.1% increase in sales.

"Super Saturday's performance highlights the continued economic pressures on the American consumer this holiday shopping season," said Bill Martin, co-founder of ShopperTrak, in a prepared statement.

"That being said, with the current economy and rather poor weather this past weekend, focused consumers still efficiently planned retail visits around deeply discounted items and proved they were willing to spend more on fewer trips," he added.

ShopperTrak expects "Super Saturday" to be the second-biggest day of this year's holiday shopping season, right behind the post-Thanksgiving "Black Friday."

But the overall outlook for retailers remains depressed: Year-over-year sales for the week ended Dec. 20 fell 6.5% compared with last year, ShopperTrak estimates.

"There are still a few more days, but this is a very weak holiday shopping season. I don't think there's any way around that," said Scott Hoyt, senior director of consumer economics at Moody's

Economy slows shopping

ShopperTrak cited the economic slowdown, inclement weather, and calendar shift as reasons for the decline in traffic. This year, the Thanksgiving-to-Christmas shopping season had one less week than it did last year, and "Super Saturday" in 2007 fell two days closer to Christmas.

"There's no question the economy is the big story here," Hoyt said. "We're seeing very rapid job loss, declines in household wealth - the whole litany of bad consumer confidence that's the hallmark of a bad recession."

Snowy conditions could have impeded shopper traffic, but "the calendar-shift argument can go both ways," Hoyt said.

Indeed, previous ShopperTrak reports seemed to imply 2008's shorter shopping season would cause procrastinators to shop a lot during the the weekend before Christmas, compared with 2007's longest-possible season.

ShopperTrak's foot-traffic estimates are drawn sample of around 50,000 retail and mall shops throughout the United States. The company's retail-sales estimates are based on Commerce Department statistics and on ShopperTrak's own industry research.

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