Last Updated Jan 4, 2010 11:30 PM EST
The Christmas week sales may even have pushed retailers that were experiencing a marginal holiday season into sales and profit gains.
A number of retailers developed promotions to capitalize on the consumers anxious to spend gift money on a day after Christmas that fell on a Saturday. Beyond the usual discounts on wrapping paper and ornaments, Walmart (WMT) offered dollars off electronics on Dec. 26 while Target (TGT) jumped into clearance mode offering coupons and deals up to 75 percent off, although many weren't of the depth. Best Buy (BBY) established special deals for Christmas and the day after that were immediately followed by a new set of bargains set for Dec. 27 through Jan. 2. Both deal periods focused on netbooks and computers.
According to the National Retail Sales Estimate from ShopperTrak, which specializes in customer counting and data analysis, retail sales increased by nine percent for the week ending Dec. 26 versus the period in 2008. Sales were up even though the firm's Retail Traffic Index â€" its customer counting service -- showed a one percent decline for the period.
Fewer customers passing store doors but spending more money suggests two things. First, consumers may have determined to do more shopping late and, second, retailers were able to generate sales at lower levels of discounting this year compared with last.
During the 2009 holiday season, the week that included Christmas represented a traffic and sales peak after storms that troubled the Northeast, Midwest and South depressed spending during the Super Saturday weekend, which this year fell on Dec. 19 and 20. In fact, according to ShopperTrak, four of the top seven sales days this holiday season were part of Christmas week as Dec. 26, with $7.9 billion in sales, beat out Super Saturday, Dec. 19, with $6.9 billion, as the second biggest shopping day of the year after Black Friday, with $10.7 billion.
Over the past several years, Dec. 26 typically rang up as the third best shopping day of the year, following Super Saturday. The rest of the top seven holiday sales days, in descending order of activity, were Wednesday Dec. 23, Saturday Dec. 12, Tuesday Dec. 22 and Monday, Dec. 21.
Late season sales have been picking up in recent years. Consumers realized they could count on better discounts in the days leading up to Christmas because retailers would begin the process of shedding excess inventory. As major chain store operators stocked less this year and late season sales outstripped traffic, a lower inventory strategy retailers adopted this year appears to have been greeted with some success. The calendar helped too, as predicted in some quarters. Consumers had three full days before Christmas Eve to do last minute shopping either by design or to make up for store time lost to the Super Saturday weekend weather.
"As expected, pent up demand following the snow storm on Super Saturday pushed consumers to spend heavily last week as value driven and procrastinating shoppers utilized the extended period between Super Saturday and Christmas to purchase the remaining items on their Christmas lists," Bill Martin, co-founder of ShopperTrak, stated. "Although traffic was slightly off for the week compared to last year, consumers purchased more with fewer trips driving sales and assuredly pushing retailers into the black this holiday season. Based on last week's performance we believe our prediction of a 1.6 percent retail sales increase with a 4.2 percent total U.S. foot traffic decline is accurate."