* Analysts slash growth estimates
* Shoppers cautious on last day of holiday season
* Retailers offer deep deals on clothes, TVs
By Jessica Wohl and Phil Wahba
CHICAGO/WHITE PLAINS, N.Y., Dec 24 Retailers
limped into Christmas with last-minute blowout deals on
everything from TVs to celebrity-branded clothing, after a
disappointing few weeks of sales led many analysts to lower
their expectations for the holiday season.
Some industry watchers said shoppers were making smaller
purchases, even though they are still visiting stores and
browsing online. Since the holiday quarter can account for about
30 percent of annual sales and half of profit for many chains,
such small distinctions can be crucial.
"The attitude of the shopper went from Christmas euphoria on
Thanksgiving weekend to more subdued, to less frenetic," said
Thom Blischok, chief retail strategist and a senior executive
adviser with consulting firm Booz & Company's retail practice.
Before the season began, Blischok was looking for sales to
rise more than 5 percent in November and December over the same
period in 2011. Now, he said a gain of 2 percent to 2.5 percent
appears more likely.
Research firm ShopperTrak lowered its forecast last week for
November and December sales. It is now calling for an increase
of 2.5 percent, rather than 3.3 percent.
"The season will be an OK season, it won't be as strong as
last year but it won't be maybe as bad as feared heading into
it," said Joseph Feldman, managing director and senior research
analyst at Telsey Advisory Group. "Christmas comes every year."
Some of those who are buying said they were holding back.
Terene Collymore, a student of criminology at Monroe College
in New Rochelle, New York, was at a Walmart on Monday,
buying last-minute gifts, such as knitting supplies for her
Collymore said she was being more careful this year and not
spending more on herself.
"I don't throw money away," she said.
CHEAP TELEVISIONS ABOUND
Sales for the November-December holiday season are expected
to rise 4.1 percent to $586.1 billion this year after a 5.6
percent increase in 2011, according to the National Retail
But even with the diminished forecasts, retailers have done
a good job controlling inventory levels this season, analysts
The iPad mini has been tough to find in some places but is
still available, while the new iPhone 5 is still in stock,
suggesting that people may have stuck with their prior models or
bought the less expensive iPhone 4S instead, said Feldman.
The season has been "decent" but "not exceptional," said
Noam Paransky, vice president in AlixPartners retail practice.
He said he has not seen unplanned discounting or too much
excess inventory despite slightly slower-than-expected growth.
"Retailers have been disciplined. They haven't hit the panic
button yet," Paransky said.
Still, Target Corp slashed the price of its
collaborative holiday collection with Neiman Marcus
by 50 percent a few days ago. The collection was still marked at
full price at Neiman Marcus.
Meanwhile Sears was offering 60 percent off
clothing from the reality TV family's "Kardashian Kollection,"
and Target, Walmart and Best Buy all had last-minute
discounts hundreds of dollars deep on big-screen TVs.
Superstorm Sandy hit sales in the densely populated
Northeast in late October and early November but retailers were
able to bounce back weeks later with a strong turnout on
Now, fresh concerns about whether Washington will reach an
agreement to avert the "fiscal cliff" of tax hikes and spending
cuts before Jan. 1 is leading some shoppers to curb spending.
Overall, analysts said inventory levels appeared about
right, though consumers' minds have changed since retailers
placed orders for items such as apparel back in the spring.
"I don't think it's an issue of ordering too much, I think
it's the fact that the consumer has recognized 'I can learn to
live with less, I don't have to have that fourteenth sweater, I
just don't have to have it,'" said Blischok.
Those retailers who are seeing weakness before the holiday
could use after-Christmas sales to sell discounted goods,
analysts said. Typically, retailers like to clear out their
holiday merchandise quickly, so that shoppers coming in with the
gift cards they received are more likely to buy full-price
spring merchandise at fatter profit margins.