Selling Season No Retailers Gift

December 27, 2002
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LANSING—Now that the holiday gift-buying season has turned into the holiday gift-exchanging season, retailers across the state will soon learn how they did as an industry and whether their collective sales topped last year.

But the news could be bleak, as receipts could easily fall under the retailers' holiday-sales projection of a modest 3.7 percent rise.

The Dow Jones Business News reported early last Thursday morning, just hours after the Christmas wrap was collected and put in the trash bins, that the holiday-selling season across the country was shaping up to be the weakest for retailers in the last thirty years.

According to the Michigan Retailers Association, only 31 percent of state retailers had a sales increase for November from the same month last year when 43 percent of merchants across Michigan reported a sale gain for the month. Sixty percent reported a sales decline for November from the previous year

The November sales figures for West Michigan retailers mirrored the state numbers, as 31 percent had a gain for the month and 58 percent reported lower sales. Things were even glummer for Grand Rapids merchants, as only 23 percent reported a sales increase for November, while 68 percent said sales revenue decreased for the month from last year.

"Just based on some of the things that we've heard nationally, it sounds like it was an extremely modest holiday season," said Tom Scott of the MRA.

Scott added that retailers were hoping that sales would pick up enough between Christmas and New Year's Day to give them a gain for the season, which ends on Tuesday.

"It started strong. The reports after the weekend after Thanksgiving were good. It was a good weekend. But it just sort of tapered off and stayed down," he said.

The MRA will report the December 2002 sales figures on Jan. 22, numbers that are important because most economists feel that consumer spending accounts for two-thirds of a state's economy.

Last December 45 percent of state retailers reported a gain, compared to only 25 percent in 2000. In 1999, 56 percent had an increase; 62 percent did in 1998; 63 percent did in 1997; 46 percent in 1996; 42 percent in 1995; and 68 percent had increased sales revenue for December in 1994.

The MRA, based in Lansing, is the nation's largest state trade association of general merchandise retailers with more than 5,800 members that operate over 13,000 stores in Michigan.

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