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Roundup of holiday sales in the U.S. in November and December 2013

24 february 2014

The main trends of the past holiday season featured huge, just indecent discounts, the chase after which started with sales in the run-up to Thanksgiving. A regular discount reached 50 percent and more. Aggressive marketing and almost round the clock opening hours were the main tools used by retailers in their fight for consumers. Customers have become less inclined to go shopping, so market experts have taken strong measures to promote online sales. Jewelry goods were bestsellers, which, however, did not prevent some jewelry retailers and some retail chains from closing their stores.

According to analyst firm ShopperTrak, holiday sales in November and December 2013 increased 2.7 %, but foot traffic decreased almost 15% compared to the same period last year. In total, shoppers spent $ 266 billion on holiday purchases. However, ShopperTrak measures sales and foot traffic only at malls, and therefore does not account for sales through the Web and other channels.

The National Retail Federation said that its initial forecast for holiday sales had been correct - total retail sales in November and December, including online sales, exceeded $ 600 billion and grew 3.8 % as compared to the last year.

Similar figures were also released by SpendingPulse in the report prepared by MasterCard Advisors. According to the report, U.S. retail sales rose 3.5% during the holiday season in 2013, helped by big discounts in shopping centers and consumer demand for jewelry.

Jewelry sales went up 9% in November, while watch sales rose by more than 11%, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce Bureau of Economic Analysis.

“Among the holiday-related categories, jewelry was a clear winner,” the SpendingPulse report said.

“The holiday shopping results are in line with expectations, but several factors impacted retail sales this year,” said Sarah Quinlan, Senior Vice President, Market Insights for MasterCard Advisors, which produces the monthly SpendingPulse report. “Having six fewer shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas, as well as bad weather in some parts of the country for the final two weekends of the season clearly had an effect on sales. Yet holiday sales were a clear improvement over last year’s weaker numbers.”

Sales growth from November to December were announced by Zale Corporation (+2%), Tiffany (+4%) and Signet (+5%). During a conference call, Theo Killion, CEO of Zale, mentioned the tough conditions of the past holiday season, including a sharp decline in the number of customers visiting shopping malls, bad weather and fewer selling days.

This was echoed by Mike Barnes, CEO of Signet Jewelers, who said that “additional discounting was necessary in a highly promotional retail environment.”

Contrary to this, Birks Group (formerly Birks & Mayors) has openly declared its disappointment with holiday sales, which fell 1% with revenues going down almost 7%.

My personal survey of jewelry retailers indicates that many of them were not satisfied with their sales during the holidays. One jewelry store in a secure area of  Solana Beach in California, for example, said their sales dropped 40%. And another famous jewelry retailer in the heart of San Diego said that they had “disappointing sales” in December and that they managed to achieve a small trade growth in 2013 mainly due to the success in May, when people celebrated Mother's Day.

According to official statistics, the winter season seemed to be quite successful and jewelry goods were a bestseller. However, in January there was an abundance of reports from all over the U.S. and Canada about layoffs and closed stores.

In January, the Macy's retail network announced it was closing 5 stores and laying off 2,500 employees. Its competitor in the higher price category, Nordstrom closed its department store in Vancouver. Capri Jewelers, one of the leading independent jewelry retailers in Richmond (Virginia), closed its last store after more than 20 years of operation in the jewelry industry. A jewelry store in Ann Arbor (Michigan) was shut down after more than eight years of work in the city center. And this kind of shut-down statistics can be continued.

In the post-crisis years I have an ambivalent feeling from the study of official data and comparing it with the reality of everyday life on the micro level. However, industry leaders believe that we are moving in the right direction and that these events indicate a recovery of the jewelry industry. So, let us go stocking up optimism for 2014.

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, total fine jewelry and watch sales in the United States rose to a record $ 79.5 billion in 2013, an increase of almost 8% over 2012. The National Retail Federation expects retail sector sales to go up 4.1% this year.

Olga Patseva, Editor in Chief of the American Bureau, Rough&Polished