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Report: Retail Fared Just Fine for Holiday

Conditions at retail have been bleak enough in the last couple of months that smaller-than-expected sales declines are a beacon of hope for brands.

In its latest monthly Retail Performance Pulse, RetailNext said December sales at physical stores fell 0.4% with a 5.8% dip in traffic. But those numbers were welcome for retailers.

“December sales drop was less than the preceding six months which is a positive for physical retail,” the report noted.

Monthly conversion for the major holiday shopping month was up for the first time since August to 0.4%. And consumers were spending more, too. Average transaction value grew 3.6% year over year, marking the third straight month of growth above 3 percent—the most in the past 16 months.

For November and December combined, sales were down 2 percent on a 6.4% drop in traffic.

“Brick-and-mortar retail’s holiday results do not come as a tremendous surprise as physical retail began to show signs of improvement early in November,” said Shelley E. Kohan, RetailNext’s vice president of retail consulting. “The real news and somewhat of a surprise was the minimal sales drop in the month of December, well improved from a trend this year of around negative 7 percent. Retailers have worked very hard the past year to make noticeable changes in the store environment, including the addition enabling technologies, solutions to shopper pain points, and more knowledgeable sales associates on the front lines, and it’s beginning to pay off.”

The last Saturday before Christmas, Dec. 19, brought in the most traffic and sales, but the greatest number of transactions took place on Dec. 23. Average transaction value and sales per shopper were lowest on Dec. 28, the first Monday following Christmas.

By region, traffic was down everywhere, but the most in the Northeast at 6.4% less than last year. Sales in the Northeast, where weather was unseasonably warm for holiday, still saw an increase to 2.7%.

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Traffic was down 6.1% in the South and sales were down 1.8%. In the Midwest, traffic fell 5.1% and sales dipped 2.3%. On the West Coast, where weather was cooler than normal for much of the holiday shopping season, traffic was down 2.7%, the lowest of any region, and sales were up 3 percent, the highest of all the regions.

According to RetailNext, retailers demonstrated during the holiday season how they’re redefining the store’s role.

“Successful retailers are recognizing the strengths of online channels during the early- and mid-holiday season, and in turn focusing physical channels on delivering shopping experiences that blend with customers’ preferred shopping patterns,” Bridget Johns, RetailNext’s head of marketing and customer experience, said. “One shining example is the increased implementation of technology solutions to free sales associates from the burden of non-value added tasks not directly related to sales or service, delivering friction-free shopping journeys for customers, and leading to increased store performance.”