After long lines on Thanksgiving and Black Friday indicated a strong start to the 2012 holiday sales season, cash registers wound up ringing more than they did in 2011. But final tallies show they did not ring as much as the world's largest retail trade association projected.
Fears of going over the fiscal cliff, the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the shootings at an elementary school in Connecticut and the sour economy all played a role in a holiday sales season that saw retail sales increase 3 percent over 2011. That was more than a percentage point below the National Retail Federation's projected forecast of a 4.1 percent increase.
At $579.8 billion, it was still a good season for retailers, said Anthony Liuzzo, an economics professor and director of the MBA program at Wilkes University.
Liuzzo issues his own projections every year, and he was spot on this time, predicting a 3 percent increase in year-to-year holiday sales. But, he said, he would have gladly been wrong. It's unfortunate that I was right, he said.
When Liuzzo released his report last fall, he said that having 32 days between Black Friday and Christmas, including five weekends, gives shoppers more opportunity to spend. And spend they did, only not as much as some retailers would have liked or what the NRF thought they would.
The president of that trade group said shoppers were so concerned about the economy that their spending patterns reflected those worries.
For over six months, we've been saying that the fiscal cliff and economic uncertainty could impact holiday sales, NRF President and Chief Executive Officer Matthew Shay said. As the number shows, these issues had a visible impact on consumer spending this holiday season. We can't expect consumers to continue to carry the burden of growing our economy. Washington must put political differences aside and do what it takes to get our country growing again and Americans back to work.
Liuzzo called the final figures moderately disappointing and said it was yet another jab to the midsection. It's not going to help the unemployment rate or inspire confidence in retailers or consumers.
While the NRF pinned much of the blame on the fiscal cliff and economic parts of the equation, Liuzzo said it was two tragedies that occurred in the second half of 2012 that played a great impact: Hurricane Sandy and the Dec. 14 mass shootings in Newtown, Conn.
The first one put people in an economically depressed mood, the second one put people in a psychologically depressed one, Liuzzo said. Anything that takes people out of a good mood is going to have an impact on holiday retail sales.