Holiday retail sales up 3%

Local retailers say their sales beat national averages.

Holiday retail sales rose 3 percent nationwide in 2012, less than the 4.1 percent jump initially projected by the National Retail Federation and disappointing in light of the strong start provided by Thanksgiving and Black Friday weekend.

Some southwest Ohio malls, however, say they believe the stores in their retail centers beat the national averages.

Trisha Hale, general manager of the Towne Mall in Middletown, said businesses that responded to an informal survey late Monday and Tuesday indicated their sales were up about 6 percent. Hale said crowds “were pretty steady throughout” the holiday season at the Middletown mall.

Consumer spending drives roughly 70 percent of U.S. economic activity, and retailers can generate as much as 40 percent of their annual revenue in the last two months of the year, making holiday shopping a closely watched barometer of economic health.

“For over six months, we’ve been saying that the fiscal cliff and economic uncertainty could impact holiday sales. As the number shows, these issues had a visible impact on consumer spending this holiday season,” National Retail Federation (NRF) President and CEO Matthew Shay said Tuesday.

At the Mall at Fairfield Commons in Beavercreek, “We saw a significant increase in foot traffic throughout the season, particularly on Black Friday and on the last weekend before Christmas,” said Bruce Goldsberry, the mall’s general manager. “It was incredibly busy here that weekend, especially on the Saturday before Christmas, which rivaled Black Friday for us.”

Goldsberry said that while he is still collecting season-end data from the mall’s retail tenants, “We anticipate we’ll be above the 3 percent national average” overall.

The Upper Valley Mall in Springfield also experienced heavier foot traffic in 2012 than it did the previous year, especially on Black Friday, when the mall opened at midnight and crowds remained robust throughout the night and the next day, according to Les Morris, spokesman for Indianapolis-based Simon Property Group, the Upper Valley Mall’s owner.

Holiday sales rose more robustly each of the two years prior to 2012: 5.6 percent in 2011 and 5.5 percent in 2010. This time, after a solid spending spree over the Thanksgiving weekend, sales limped along until the final days before Christmas, when stores were forced to discount more heavily than they had planned in order to woo back shoppers.

In another mildly encouraging measure of consumer confidence announced Tuesday by the U.S. Commerce Department and not focused so tightly on holiday spending, U.S. consumers increased their spending at retail businesses in December, buying more autos, furniture and clothing.

Retail sales rose 0.5 percent in December from November, the Commerce Department said. That’s slightly better than November’s 0.4 percent increase and the best showing since September.

Sales of autos and auto parts rose 1.6 percent to lead all categories. Car companies closed out their best sales year since 2007.

Electronics sales were disappointing. NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said said overall December sales “could not make up for shortfalls in certain categories like electronics.” Electronics and appliance stores’ sales decreased 0.4 percent compared to last year’s sales, although it wasn’t clear how falling prices on items such as flat-screen televisions may have impacted the sales numbers.

Retailers received a boost from online sales this holiday season. The commerce department and the NRF said “non-store” holiday sales grew 11.1 percent from the previous year.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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