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Analysts Raise Holiday Sales Projections

12/15/2011 09:46:07 AM Eastern
New York - An early December sales surge and a greater number of last-minute shoppers have compelled analysts to raise their estimates for this season's total holiday haul.

The National Retail Federation (NRF) now expects holiday sales to rise 3.8 percent year over year to $469.1 billion, a full percentage point over previous projections.

"After strong sales reports in October and November, along with a successful Black Friday weekend, retailers are cautiously optimistic that this season will turn out better than initially expected," noted NRF president/CEO Matthew Shay.

Similarly, ShopperTrak is now calling its initial 3 percent holiday projection "conservative" based on retailers' solid 4.1-percent sales gain in November, as reported by the U.S. Commerce Department. The foot-traffic monitoring service is also encouraged by a 10.6 percent spike in week-over-week retail sales for the seven days ending Dec. 10, which founder Bill Martin described as "an indication of things to come. There is still a lot of holiday shopping left. Retailers will see sales increases all the way up to Christmas Day and the end of Hanukkah."

Indeed, an NRF/BIGresearch survey found that only 46.5 percent of consumers had completed their holiday shopping by the second week of December, and that 16.5 percent, or nearly 37 million people, hadn't even started.

To snag those last-minute shoppers, retailers are extending store hours and free-shipping offers, and are mounting another round of targeted promotions this weekend for so-called "Super Saturday" (Dec. 17), the last Saturday before Christmas Eve.

Among the former, Sears is keeping stores in 260 markets open until midnight through Friday, Dec. 23, while Toys "R" Us said nearly all of its stores will remain open for 112 hours continuously from 6:00 a.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 20 through 10:00 p.m. on Dec. 24 (Christmas Eve).

For its part, Amazon.com has extended its free "Super Saver" shipping offer through Dec. 19, and has stretched the boundaries of e-tail Christmas delivery by setting Dec. 23 as the order deadline for its Amazon Prime service and Dec. 24 for local express delivery of select items within select cities.

Walmart.com, which says its free shipping offer has saved customers $36 million this season, has similarly extended its Christmas delivery order cutoff to 11:30 p.m. PST on Dec. 20,  and is offering rush shipping until 11:30 p.m. PST on Dec. 21.

Walmart is also targeting Super Saturday with storewide Big Christmas Event sales that promise "incredible savings" on CE and games, including a 32-inch 1080p Vizio LED TV for $298, a Vizio 3D Blu-ray player with built-in WiFi for $98, and select titles for Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii and PS3 Games at $39.96 each.

The NRF cited CE as one of the season's top gift categories, with purchases up nearly 12 percent to 23.8 percent of shoppers this holiday period.
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