Holiday sales get lift from late season shopping

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NEW YORK — A late shopping rush on the weekend before Christmas helped put some twinkle in holiday retail sales, but the final results for the season seemed to fall short of the optimistic projections retailers had set back in early November.

Drug chains, however, may have fared slightly better during the holidays than the retail sector overall.

Total dollar volume at chain drug stores increased 4.4%, with same-store sales inching up 1.9% in the 2014 shopping season. This compares with a 4.5% overall increase and a 2.1% same-store sales gain in the year-ago period.

The 2014 holiday shopping season was one day longer than 2013’s holiday season (there were 27 days between Thanksgiving and Christmas in 2014, compared with 26 days in the prior year).

Christmas 2014 sales chart_WEBGiven such factors as lower gasoline prices across the nation and employment numbers picking up, the holiday sales results are slightly disappointing. According to some of the early estimates, the 2014 holiday season was projected to be the best in at least three years.

Still, with Christmas falling on a Thursday, some observers expected the weekend after the holiday to partially make up for the lackluster pre-holiday sales.

According to MasterCard projections, that was a likely scenario. The credit card company reported that it expected the week after Christmas to compensate for sluggish sales in early December and stood by its preseason SpendingPulse prediction that overall retail sales would increase a solid 5.5% for the holiday shopping period ending December 31.

“People have been buying steadily,” Sarah Quinlan, a senior vice president of market insights for MasterCard Advisors, told reporters in late December. “The late shopping surge should continue all the way through Christmas Eve.”

The National Retail Federation (NRF) also remained optimistic about the season. NRF president and chief executive officer Matthew Shay noted in mid-December that the “holiday season is a marathon, not a sprint.”

Shay said he believed a last-minute surge of holiday shopping would enable retailers to meet NRF’s forecast of 4.1% growth for the season.

“Increasing wages combined with lower gas prices are providing retailers with an early holiday present this year,” added NRF chief economist Jack Kleinhenz.

Others, however, were not as optimistic about the results. The last-minute shopping surge provided only “a strong finish to an otherwise lackluster season,” Craig Johnson, president of the strategic retail firm Customer Growth Partners, told Bloomberg. The firm estimated that the “super” Saturday before Christmas was the busiest shopping day of the year, topping even Black Friday in terms of total sales.

Most drug chains extended their operating hours in late December as a way to capture more of the expected last-minute shopping rush and focused on meeting shoppers’ needs for the “unexpected” and stocking stuffer type items.

“We work hard to reduce the stress of gift giving for our customers,” CVS/pharmacy senior vice president of merchandising Judy Sansone said a week before Christmas. “Last-minute shoppers will find great gifts and stocking stuffers at CVS/pharmacy, without breaking their budgets or running all over town.”


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