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CE Holiday Retail Sales Reports Varied

NEW YORK – Pending final sales tallies, it was still unclear at press time how the CE category fared over the holiday season.

The numbers varied: MasterCard pegged CE sales as flat for the Nov. 1 to Dec. 24 shopping period, while America’s Research Group, in a Dec. 13-14 shopper poll, declared CE one of “two big winners this holiday season” (the other was kids’ apparel), with 39.2 percent of respondents reporting CE purchases, up from 19.8 percent the preceding year.

Of those, 18 percent of consumers purchased a TV, up from 13.1 percent the previous year; 17.5 percent bought a computer, compared with 10.6 percent in 2012; and a whopping 42.5 percent bought video games vs. 35.4 percent the year prior.

Anecdotal accounts also varied. Jim Ristow, executive director of the ProSource division of the BrandSource buying group, said the fourth quarter was “not so great” for traditional retailers, although business for integrators was booming as homeowners completed major projects in time to entertain for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

“Integrators are having a hard time finding installers,” Ristow said. “It’s 180 degrees from three years ago and a good problem to have.”

Similarly, Conn’s chairman/CEO Theo Wright was projecting “a strong finish to the holiday season after a great start” during an earnings call last month, and Video & Audio Center’s corporate director Tom Campbell told TWICE that his threeshowroom chain sold 213 Ultra HD TVs in the first two weeks of December.

Campbell said the numbers prompted one supplier to question whether the Los Angeles dealer was transshipping, although he attributed the high demand to media appearances that promoted the technology.

Tech also performed well over Thanksgiving. According to The NPD Group, CE retail sales nearly hit the $5- billion mark for the week ending one day after Black Friday, with TVs, tablets and notebooks accounting for $3.1 billion of the tally. “The most significant sign of positive holiday momentum is that all of the top-five [tech] categories delivered positive revenue in 2013,” NPD industry analysis VP Stephen Baker said.

Examined by retailer, Walmart was the No. 1 go-to merchant for TV purchases, the America’s Research Group report showed, while Best Buy experienced a 59 percent decline in seasonal TV market share, to 10.1 percent. Walmart also won in customer base retention rate, which the market research firm’s chairman/CEO Britt Beemer described as “the key to retailing success.” More than 88 percent of Walmart shoppers made return visits, compared to 68 percent for Sears (up 8 percent); 57 percent for Best Buy (up 17 percent); and 44 percent for Barnes & Noble, which came in last.

“If you’re losing 50 percent of your customers, you’re in grave trouble and your long-term future is doubtful,” Beemer said.

Target, which suffered the massive credit card security breach, only saw a 3.4 percent dip in customer retention, to 72.1 percent. Beemer said the discounter “weathered the storm … amazingly well largely due to a smart move on their part by giving consumers an additional 10 percent-off” the following weekend.