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Christmas 2013: Hard work, tough sledding for NY retailers

ALBANY – New York’s retailers used deep discounts, extended hours, and heavy promotions to attract shoppers during the 2013 holiday shopping season, mustering an increase in sales volume of some 3-to-4 percent over a similar time period in 2012.

Merchants surveyed by the Retail Council gave the season an average letter grade of “B-minus”.

“It’s hard work,” said Retail Council President and CEO Jim Sherin. “The competition gets tougher year after year. Retailers of every size have to be quick on their feet to respond to consumer trends that shift at an unprecedented pace.”

Sherin said many merchants reported an increasing impact from online sales, on-the-spot price matching through smart phone apps, and more foot traffic from shoppers who try out merchandise in the store and then retreat to their computers to buy the items online.

“Brick-and-mortar merchants are as Internet-and-app-savvy as the traditional online giants, but it’s always a challenge to convince shoppers that they can score as good a deal in the stores as they can online,” he said. “I think we’ll see that message more and more as time goes on.”

Retailers surveyed agreed that the bulk of the shopping took place in the five or six days running up to Christmas, with post-Christmas sales very strong.

“The bigger trend reflected again this year is that the bulk of the Christmas shopping gets done immediately before the holiday itself and/or through the post-Christmas deep discounts,” Sherin said.

Bright points for retailers during the holiday shopping season: cold temperatures that drove sales of winter weather clothing and sporting goods, and continued popularity of jewelry and collectibles.

Sherin said surprises were limited during the shortened “official” holiday shopping season.

“We got a little bad weather that slowed things down,” he said.  “We saw a modest increase over last year’s volume, but it was hard-earned and not necessarily indicative of bigger profits.  We saw an increase in online shopping. We saw shoppers disappointed because they waited until the very last minute.  We sold a lot of gift cards.”

“All in all, the B-minus sounds like a pretty fitting description from our members,” Sherin said.

Hot sellers this holiday season included Alex and Ani bracelets, jewelry items, XBox and PlayStation upgrades, video games, LeapPad, Big Hug Elmo, collectible figurines, winter sports equipment, cold weather clothing, “Duck Dynasty” tie-ins, moccasins, high-end headphones.