Holiday sales up 2.7%, ShopperTrak says

Customers at a Target store opening before Black Customers at a Target store opening before Black Friday in Chicago. The number of customers in stores dropped 14.6 percent from last year for November and December combined. (Nov. 28, 2013) Photo Credit: Bloomberg News

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A last-minute shopping surge helped holiday sales wrap up better than expected, according to one measure. But stores had to discount heavily to lure shoppers.

ShopperTrak, which tracks data at 40,000 stores in the United States, said sales for the November and December months combined rose 2.7 percent to $265.9 billion. That was better than its 2.4 percent forecast for the season but below the 3 percent gain seen in 2012.

The shopping season left Long Island store owners and analysts with a similarly lukewarm impression.

Todd Kirschner, owner of Trio Hardware in Plainview, called the season "soft." Big-ticket items didn't move like they have in the past and most shoppers seemed intent on seeing how far they could stretch their budget, he said.

"They didn't just say, 'OK, give me that drill,' " Kirschner said. "They'd say, 'How much is that drill? Do you have something less expensive?' "

Also, the 2013 calendar had six fewer days than 2012 between Black Friday, the traditional shopping kickoff, and Christmas.

If the shortened season had an effect, it didn't show at Bobb Howard's General Store, said Eileen Caplin Wysel, who co-owns the New Hyde Park novelty candy and toy shop with her husband.

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On weekends between Thanksgiving and Christmas the store had a line of people waiting to get in, she said.

"People definitely go out of their way to come to us and they did again this year," Caplin Wysel said. "Was it a banner year? I'm not going to say that, but right now we're looking good."

Joel Evans, a marketing professor and retail expert at Hofstra University's Frank G. Zarb School of Business, said it's still too soon to compile an overview of the holiday shopping season because retailers won't start counting gift card sales in their books until recipients show up to redeem them.

For now, he said, stores on Long Island and elsewhere will keep offering discounts for two reasons -- to get gift card holders in the door and clear out surplus inventory. With Newsday staff

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