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CE Holiday Sales Flat: MasterCard

12/20/2010 12:35:13 PM Eastern
Purchase, N.Y. - CE holiday sales appear stuck in neutral despite solid seasonal gains across other retail sectors.

According to a SpendingPulse report by MasterCard's Advisors consultancy division, CE sales edged up just 0.4 percent year-over-year for the Oct. 31-Dec. 11 period, dragged down by declines during the three weeks leading up to Black Friday.

The report is based on aggregate sales activity in the MasterCard payments network, coupled with survey-based estimates for all other payment forms, including other cards, cash and checks.

SpendingPulse VP Michael McNamara attributed CE's weakness to a significant decline in TV pricing, which has impacted dollar volume. "While this doesn't mean there aren't hot products in electronics, the overall sector" - along with appliances and home furnishings - "is struggling a little year over year," he said.

 In contrast, e-commerce continues to be one of the stars of the season, with a seasonal growth rate of 13.5 percent and weekly double-digit year-over-year growth rates since the second week in November. The channel's gains account for much of the overall increase holiday sales, McNamara said.

Better-than-expected retail performance across the board has similarly prompted market research firm ShopperTrak to raise its holiday sales forecast from a 3.2 percent increase to a gain of 4 percent, while seasonal traffic is up 1.8 percent year-over-year.

Strong demand for holiday favorites like toys prompted Toys "R" Us chairman/CEO Jerry Storch to declare the Saturday before Christmas "the biggest shopping day in the history of retailing" to CBS News. He said the remainder of the week would also remain "massive" as the chain moves to around-the-clock hours tomorrow through Christmas Eve.

In contrast, Best Buy, which lowered its full-year earnings outlook on weak holiday traffic trends, took added measures over the weekend to boost December sales. These included dropping its 15-percent restocking fee policy for most returns, plus a slew of gift-card gaming offers that included a $100 card with the purchases of a 160GB PlayStation 3.
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