by Hadley Malcolm and Jayne O'Donnell, USA TODAY
After more than a week of retailers' biggest sales of the year, shoppers are pulling back.
As is usual, retail sales declined the first week after the week of Black Friday. Sales fell 3.1% for the week ended Dec. 1, according to a report Tuesday from the International Council of Shopping Centers and Goldman Sachs. The report represents about 40 major retail chains.
"Sales typically enter a lull period after Thanksgiving and this year appears to be no different," Michael Niemira, ICSC vice president of research and chief economist, said in a statement.
Niemira says he expects shoppers will return to stores throughout December, overall, retail sales are still up compared to the same period a year ago.
That's not true of online sales, which dipped sharply the week ended Dec. 1. For Dec. 1 and Dec. 2, online sales declined more than 17% vs. the same two days last year, according to Chase Holiday Pulse, which provides daily updates on sales and transaction volume for 50 top e-retailers.
"It's mostly due to buying fatigue and the shift toward shopping earlier the week of Thanksgiving this year," says Shaun Abraham, director of strategic initiatives for Chase Paymentech.
"I don't think it's an anomaly that you see this drop," he says. "It's just a natural flow. You'll see this uptake happen as we get closer to next week and the Christmas holiday."
However, the American Express Saving and Spending Tracker says more people have started and finished their shopping this year than at the same point last year. Of 1,500 consumers surveyed between Nov. 29 and Dec. 2, 68% said they had started holiday shopping, up three percentage points from 65% a year ago. And 14% of those polled said they have finished their holiday shopping, up five percentage points from 9% last year.
"Consumers as a whole have less to buy at this point than they did last year," says Melanie Backs, an American Express spokeswoman. Still, "most aren't finished shopping for their gift list, so there's plenty more shopping to be done."
Of the 86% who have started but not finished their shopping, the American Express data show 41% say they're about a quarter done, 22% say they are halfway finished, and 23% say they are 75% there.