By Ashley Lutz
NEW YORK - Retail sales at stores open more than a year may have gained as much as 4.5 percent in December, more than previously estimated, as U.S. shoppers pursued holiday discounts, a trade group said.
Same-store sales in December were earlier projected to have advanced as much as 4 percent, the International Council of Shopping Centers said in a statement Wednesday. Sales at retail chains last week rose 5.3 percent from a year earlier, according to the New York-based researcher.
Sales in the last two weeks of December increased from a year earlier as retailers extended hours and benefited from Christmas Eve falling on a Saturday, providing a strong end to a holiday season that already had exceeded some forecasts. Macy’s Inc., Gap Inc. and Target Corp. also offered discounts on already marked-down merchandise in the week after Christmas.
“The last few weeks of December helped to lift the full-month performance above our earlier expectation,” Michael Niemira, chief economist at the ICSC, said in the statement.
The National Retail Federation last month raised its forecast for the holiday shopping season after steeper discounts and earlier opening hours contributed to a record $52.4 billion in sales during the Thanksgiving weekend. The Washington-based group said sales may increase 3.8 percent to a record $469.1 billion in November and December, up from a previous projection for a 2.8 percent gain.
The increase would be higher than the 10-year average of 2.6 percent growth and slower and than last year’s 5.2 percent increase.
Store and online sales on Dec. 26 soared to an estimated $29 billion from $20 billion last year, said Craig Johnson, president of consulting firm Customer Growth Partners.
“There was a level of pent-up demand, and people decided the deals were worth taking,” Johnson said in a telephone interview from New Canaan, Conn., before Wednesday's results were announced.
Sales for the week ending Dec. 24 increased 4.5 percent from a year earlier, the ICSC said Dec. 28. Unemployment at the lowest in more than two years boosted consumer confidence to an eight-month high in December.
The ICSC’s numbers are based on the ICSC-Goldman Sachs Weekly Chain Store Sales Index.