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Bloomberg
By Cotten Timberlake
Tuesday, December 24, 2013

U.S. store visits plummeted 21 percent and retail sales dropped 3.1 percent in the week through Saturday, signaling a lackluster finish for stores’ most important selling season, Chicago-based researcher ShopperTrak said yesterday.

Falling store traffic in recent weeks and uneven demand, especially for apparel, spurred chains to risk earnings by piling on the discounts to generate sales. Retailers including Neiman Marcus Group LLC were offering as much as 75 percent off, and some, including Macy’s and Kohl’s Corp. (KSS), were keeping stores open around the clock starting Friday. At the same time, Americans are increasingly shopping online.

“The numbers are a bit scaring,” Bill Martin, ShopperTrak’s co-founder, said in an interview. “This is modest growth.”

Holiday purchases increased 2 percent from Nov. 1 to Dec. 22, ShopperTrak said. Sales will rise 2.4 percent for the whole season, the smallest gain since 2009, Martin reiterated.

ShopperTrak compiles sales and traffic data from devices in stores and receipt information, primarily from mall-based sellers of general merchandise, apparel, furniture and electronics. Holiday sales grew 3 percent last year, 3.4 percent in 2011 and 4 percent in 2010, according to the firm’s measure.

The National Retail Federation reiterated on Dec. 12 its prediction that total sales will rise 3.9 percent in November and December, more than the 3.5 percent gain a year ago.

U.S. Economy

While the U.S. economy grew at a surprising 4.1 percent annualized rate in the third quarter, the gain was driven by increased spending on services such as health care and recreation as well as companies boosting software investments.

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