Despite deep discounts and longer shopping hours, some malls are reporting fewer consumers and shorter shopping lines in the final days leading up to the Christmas holiday, an observation corroborated by market research reports.
Analytics firm RetailNext says the number of visits to brick and mortar stores fell between five and seven percent, compared to the same weekend last year.
While the numbers might indicate a tough year ahead for retailers, some analysts say the shopping season is not over yet.
“There’s a few things happening here," said Chris Christopher, director of consumer economics at IHS Global Insight. "One thing is the shift to online. However there is one weekend shorter this holiday shopping season than last year.”
All told, Christopher says, this holiday season could turn out to be the weakest since 2009. But the National Retail Federation says it’s too early to tell, and that it plans to stick to its forecast of a 3.9 percent increase over last year, says spokesperson Kathy Grannis.
“Our forecast really is based on an economic expectation, and overall we do feel that retailers are on pace for a healthy holiday season," said Grannis.
The Federation estimates holiday sales between November and December will top 600 billion dollars, including the 13-to-15 percent increase in the number of people who shopped online this year.
Jason Schlefer, a manager at Best Buy, predicts a surge of last minute shoppers.
“We’ve really seen it ramp up in the last few days," he said. "So obviously you’re getting people with a heightened sense of urgency.”
For most retailers, the holiday season is crucial, accounting for as much as 40 percent of a store’s annual profits. Grannis says how retailers fare in that window is important because it provides a snapshot of the country’s economic health.
“Consumer spending alone contributes nearly 70 percent of the GDP, and we know that the 3.1 trillion dollars that we see from retail is one of the biggest parts of our growing economy.”
There are more than 3.6 million stores in the United States — employing more than 42 million Americans.