UPDATE 2-U.S. holiday season sales rose 2.5 percent -ShopperTrak

Wed Jan 9, 2013 4:51pm EST

* Foot traffic also rose 2.5 pct-ShopperTrak
    * Heavy discounting late in season brought in shoppers


    By Phil Wahba
    Jan 9 (Reuters) - U.S. retail sales rose 2.5 percent during
the 2012 holiday season, helped by a late surge in shopping
trips right before Christmas, retail tracking firm ShopperTrak
said on Wednesday, the latest sign that retailers had a solid
but not great season.
    ShopperTrak, which monitors the number of people walking
into stores across the United States, said foot traffic also
rose 2.5 percent in November and December.
    After a strong start to the season over the Black Friday
weekend that follows Thanksgiving, U.S. shoppers held off from
buying, waiting for deals and weighed down by concerns about the
prospects of higher taxes in 2013.
    In mid-December, after seeing a slowdown in retail sales
after the season got off to a strong start, ShopperTrak lowered
its forecast, calling for sales to increase 2.5 percent from
2011, compared to an earlier forecast of a 3.3 percent jump.
    The Saturday before Christmas, nicknamed "Super Saturday" in
the retail industry, was the second busiest day in terms of
holiday season sales after Black Friday in 2012, according to
ShopperTrak.
    "The procrastinators held out until the end," ShopperTrak
founder Bill Martin told Reuters.
    That in turn led to heavy discounting at the end of December
to bring in shoppers. Retail sales rose 18 percent in the week
that ended Dec. 29 compared to a year earlier, ShopperTrak said.
    Last week, Kohl's Corp said that its sales came late
in the season and its discounts were deeper than planned. Macy's
Inc had strong December sales but lowered its quarterly
profit and sales forecasts. 
    Trends show individuals proved willing to visit more stores
in search of deals, a behavior that can also help retailers
since it can lead to more impulse buying, Martin said.
    The National Retail Federation, which will publish its
holiday sales results next week, has forecast an increase of 4.1
percent.
    A SpendingPulse report by MasterCard Advisors on Wednesday
found that excluding car sales, but including gasoline,
groceries and restaurants, U.S. retail spending rose 2.4 percent
in December, a slower pace than the 4.5 percent rise in
November.
    "The lack of (consumer) confidence brought growth down,"
said Michael McNamara, MasterCard Advisors' global solutions
leader, also noting that the surge in sales after Christmas was
prompted by bigger deals this year.