Retail Traffic Plunges By "Staggering" 21% In Week Before Christmas

Tyler Durden's picture

That it has been one of the most lacklustre shopping seasons in recent years has already been repeatedly covered, with average holiday spending expected to decline for the first time since the Great Financial Crisis of 2008, all this despite record promotions and an ever earlier start to Black Friday.

Another chart showing the same trend from Bloomberg, with the comment that the "eroding middle class can no longer drive activity as it has in the past" - that's odd: we said the same thing in late 2009 for which we got yet another label of tinfoil conspiracy theorists...

However, while the early start to shopping season has missed expectations, driven primarily by an unprecedented weakness in traditional bricks and mortar outlets, there was some hope that the last stretch into Christmas and the New Year would provide a much needed, last minute bump. Those hopes were dashed last night when Shopptertrack reported that retail traffic plummeted by an unprecedented 21% last week, and in-store sales decreased 3.1% from the year before, dashing retailers' hopes that the final stretch before Christmas would offset soft sales numbers earlier in the holiday shopping season.

UT San Diego reports:

The disappointing numbers, released by ShopperTrak on Monday, are "kind of staggering," said the research firm's founder, Bill Martin, who last week voiced optimism that retailers would see a noticeable spike in traffic and sales the week of Dec. 16-22 after two consecutive weeks of decreases in both.


He attributed the latest nosedive to successful November promotions, and bad weather last week in the Midwest and other central states. An increase in virtual window-shopping has prevented consumers throughout the shopping season from setting foot in many stores to look, feel and compare prices, he added.

Wait, November promotions were successful? For whom: retailers whose bottom lines got crushed in the margin collapse, or buyers who decided to wait and keep waiting for even better deals, until in the end they decided not to buy at all. Blaming the weather we understand, as do the trend to convert purchases to "window shopping" - in a world in which everything is turning virtual, it only makes sense that Americans pretend to shop asl well.

What's worse, however, is that the deus ex of online sales is not appearing and will not save the day:

But even online sales aren’t growing at the expected pace. Online spending from home and work desktop computers in the U.S. from Nov. 1 through Dec. 15 was up 9 percent from the same period last year to $37.8 billion, according to the most available data from comScore.


That’s below the 14 percent growth that the Internet research firm is forecasting for the season.


Even though Black Friday holds the title as single busiest shopping day of the holiday season, the week before Christmas is traditionally the busiest week in the most important shopping season of the year. Many retailers depend on November and December to make as much as 40 percent of their annual revenue, the National Retail Federation says. But while 2013 is shaping up to be the largest holiday shopping season on record, retailers are not getting the photo finish they expected.


"The numbers are not devastating, but they are a bit alarming," Martin said.


He is not revising his forecast of 2.4 percent overall growth in retail sales for November and December, already the slowest growth since 2009, because it was strong sales in early November that caused the softer late-season sales.

Finally, it appears that the strategy of pulling forward demand to the present through record discounts, and crushing margins in hopes of "making it up in volume" only works for those perpeptual non-cash flow generating juggernauts like Amazon, which on a long enough timeline will do everything (badly), and supposedly put everyone out of business. Just not yet.

Retailers began earlier than ever promoting deep discounts and deals to appeal to frugal consumers. Retail sales in November were up 4.7 percent from 2012, the Commerce Department reported.


"November was pretty strong, and that's going to carry some weight into December," Martin said. "If December ends up being flat, I expect we're still going to have a 2.4 percent increase."


There are some strong shopping days left before the end of the month, he said, and retailers will push hard to get shoppers back into their stores post-Christmas to exchange gifts, use gift cards and take advantage of post-holiday promotions. Gift cards are not recorded as sales until they are exchanged for merchandise, and because 80 percent of shoppers plan to buy them this year, bringing total gift card spending to an all-time high of $29.8 billion, they could have a big influence on sales after the Christmas holiday.


Final sales figures for the holiday shopping season are expected in January.

We can't wait. In the meantime, we expect seasonally adjusted government retail sales data to indicate once again, that all is well, and that it is not the ARIMA X 12 seasonal fudge-factor goalseeker that is wrong, but that it is reality which is at fault.

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wisehiney's picture

According to that ZH chart from yesterday, we were all staggering down to the liquor store.

XAU XAG's picture

Been staggering down to the liquor store since 2008!


"Merry Christmas" and a "Happy New Year" to Zerohedgers



krispkritter's picture

As the economic cart rolled over the cliff, the view of the rocky ground below became clear.  As terminal velocity was reached I thought, "I wonder why the ground looks so big?".  Then it hit me...

BKbroiler's picture

I'd like to believe that in the wake of the crisis and the struggle that followed, people became less materialistic, more in touch with what's really important in life.  But no, theyz just po.

onewayticket2's picture

Note: i heard this AM that this holiday season has SIX fewer shopping days than last year.  say "shopping season" is thirty days....that's 20% fewer days to shop....stands to reason sales might drop by a commensurate amount.

maybe one of you retail analysts can chime in.

tarsubil's picture

You'd think the last day of shopping would then be pandemonium since everyone is rushing to get their shopping done. I went shopping yesterday and it was at worst brisk but certainly not high or any where near extreme. Most shelves were packed. I remember a while back where I went to a toy store a couple days before Christmas and it was like a bomb went off and there were literally just a couple toys on the shelves. Meh. The numbers say everything is great.

Colonel Klink's picture

Fuck'em all.  I boycotted Christmas this year.  I'm not spending one red fucking cent.  Only way to send a message to our Feral government is to shut down the eCONomy.  Things come to a grinding halt, maybe they'll get the message.

A Nanny Moose's picture

Anecdotal, but I was at Best Buy yesterday. The line at checkout was non-existent. I'm not talking 1 or 2 people in front of me (typical is 10-15)...I walked straight to a register. That simply does not happen, when there are only 3 registers open.

ElvisDog's picture

Fewer shopping days is a desperate, stupid argument. You still have the same number or people to buy for, right? You won't have less or more money to spend on gifts depending on the number of shopping days. 

onewayticket2's picture

lighten up, francis.  i am in full agreement that there's no wind in the sales and that times are probably worse than last year.  merely stating something i read as a possible factor for downward pressure on sales. 

the fact that two of my biggest nuts - my property tax and my family's health insurance just went up 14% and 38%, resp. has nothing to do with my spending being down!  really.

PoliticalRefugeefromCalif.'s picture

Exactly, Christmas is an arbitrary deadline, you have 365 days no matter when Thanksgiving (another arbitrary point of time) falls to get your Christmas shopping done.

Debt grows exponentially, tax revenue grows linearly; any notion that furthers the scope of government always includes larceny-

It seems the bubble is leaking.



A Nanny Moose's picture

Perhaps you are correct, to some degree, in your first assumption? Perhaps producers have begun to Go Galt?

ss123's picture


Everyone is just buying online instead, right?

grid-b-gone's picture

As online traffic grows, it makes sense that with shipping lead-time, retail activity will become more sparse for the few days before Christmas.

As a procrastinator, I have noticed the ability to buy at odd hours and at my convenience has made me an earlier shopper. I've been done for about a week, just as the data shows. 

NoDebt's picture

A good point, but I see it somewhat differently.  That last week is inherently tough for online shopping (knowing it will arrive in time without paying extra shipping costs for faster delivery becomes a bigger questionmark with each passing day).  Brick and mortar stores are great for last minute shopping because you carry it out on the spot.

And then there's this:

"retail traffic plummeted by an unprecedented 21% last week, and in-store sales decreased 3.1% from the year before, "

That tells me there was no bump for the brick and mortar stores.  Not only are sales down 3%, but traffic falling off 21%- that means something even more important.  Discounts and special deals don't matter if you simply don't have the money.  Either they're budgeting very carefully or they know there's simply no point taking one last look in case something "catches their eye."  Tapped out is tapped out.  And a 21% decline in traffic means they're not just tapped out, they KNOW they're tapped out.

Tijuana Donkey Show's picture

That, and most shit sucks. How do you want your chinese plastic arranged?

corporatewhore's picture

the only thing we're sold out of is $1 lottery scratchers and airline bottles of booze.  That's the new American spirit of sharing and giving.  People are broke and stressed.  I told someone yesterday "Merry Christmas" and they yelled back "Fuck You".


PoliticalRefugeefromCalif.'s picture

Let me apologize for man's seeming insensitivity to his fellow man by wishing you a very Merry Christmas you whore.. there feel better?

Chuck Walla's picture

Nothing says you're serious quite like needing a shopping car at the liquor store.



Jason T's picture

broke bitchez


Murf_DaSurf's picture




Croesus's picture

The "Staggering Drunk's Guide To Stawk Investment": 

1. Do NOT Short alcohol sales figures. 

2. Weak retail earnings are GOOD for retailers. 

3. Gold is Bad. 

4. Pour me another round. 

5. People who make shit that nobody needs will do well! 

6. Don't bet against the Yellenanke. 

7. WTF is a Yellenanke? 

8. Pour me another round. 

9. Buy booze companies. 

10. Gold is...


P.S. Merry Christmas!  

P.S.S. Fuck all you PC assholes with your BS holidays that nobody wants forced down their throats. I don't give a rats' ass what you celebrate. What you do is your business. Don't make it mine. 

P.S.S.S. (Is there such a thing?): Pour me another round. 

Bloodstock's picture

Forced down your throat? Pa-lease! Will you go to work on Christmas Day or will you expect to have that day off? Will you demand to work for straight pay? (Hope you got a job.) Do you spend any special time spending with any special people? Do you buy your kids a present? All you Christmas complainers out their can kiss my ass! Merry Christmas just the same! Pour yourself another round and don't hit your head when you fall off of your bar stool.

XAU XAG's picture






overmedicatedundersexed's picture

no retailer wants you to use your pre paid gift card, can anyone get why?

" use gift cards and take advantage of post-holiday promotions. Gift cards are not recorded as sales until they are exchanged for merchandise, and because 80 percent of shoppers plan to buy them this year,"

Waterfallsparkles's picture

I just give my Grandaughters one gift and the rest in Cash. That way it does not involve the Banks.

I do not give gift cards as they limit where you can spend the Money.  Plus, why give the Bankers a cut if you give a pre-paid visa card.

Bobbyrib's picture

Spoiler Alert: If retail numbers are not "adjusted" to meet or exceed what is expected, the "good news" that will save the market is the outstanding amount in gift cards.

aerojet's picture

I never understood why people buy gift cards when cash works just fine and you don't have to worry that the asshat at the counter did something wrong when adding "money" to the card.  WTF do you care if the person you give the cash to spends it at Target, Best Buy, buys pot with it or just sticks it into a jar?  Gift cards require you to consume for no obvious good reason.

IrritableBowels's picture

Some gift cards will add on if you purchase one of a certain value.  Say, for a fifty dollar gift card, one could get an extra 10 bucks. I bought a few, planning to spend money there anyway, and just made 20%...

 Quick search:

I realize the above link is exclusive to restaurants; the deal I found was through a clothing store, so they're out there as well.

Obchelli's picture

Bullish. If it is not bullish enough just blame it on weather.

Meantimes consumer confidence is soaring according to all numbers and GDP at multi year highs...


where is the truth?

XAU XAG's picture

where is the truth?


Swept under the carpet!

overmedicatedundersexed's picture

I would like to buy some truth but it is not available due to,executive orders 1205-1211. national security comes well before truth. TSA/NSA confiscates all truth at the security check point, so don't bother trying to bring it in.

if you like your truth you can keep your truth.

GeezerGeek's picture

Of course it's the weather, or more precisely it's the snow.

Meanwhile, S. Florida remains in the 80s (temperature, not decade or average age) and I for one wish Obama would redistribute some of the cooler air my way.

TheRideNeverEnds's picture

Wow the markets aren't taking this well at all; they are sharply unchanged...  


Its basically a crash.



i-dog's picture

The biggest tell (on the health of the retail economy) will be the post-Christmas sales period - the period of "discretionary" spending on sale items, compared with the pre-Christmas purchases of "necessary / traditional" gifts and food.

Shizzmoney's picture

Goldman: "This data might show an economic split"

This is like a doctor who injects a person with poison, and then after the patient vomits all over the floor, the doctor points to it and goes, "Look, he's sick!!!!!1111".

dobermangang's picture

The only things selling well right now are guns, ammo, scratch-off lottery tickets, Duck Dynasty T-shirts and Grand Theft Auto V. 

This was an average year for the Obama economy..... worst than last year, but better than next year.

Waterfallsparkles's picture

It was 60 degrees here in the east.  I went to Walmart on Sat, got a great parking spot, store was not busy and check out lines not long at all.

Went to KMart on Sun, same great parking spot, store not busy and check out lines not long.

Although, except for my Grandaughters, the only thing I buy for my Children are food gifts.  That way there is nothing to take back and I know they will enjoy their gifts.  Except for the Children we stopped exchanging gifts 5 years ago.  This works great as no one has a debt hangover in January.

I thought that with the warm weather the stores would be packed but they were not as busy as a normal Saturday.  Either everyone already bought their presents or are not spending this year.

buzzsaw99's picture

I guessing that many wmt gift cards will go for gas and tp this year.

Handful of Dust's picture

I went to Sears appliance section which is supposed to  be their strong point and all the salesmen were standing arounds talking. Only 1 or 2 people straggling between the fridges with their buyers in sight.

10044's picture

Definitely either  weather related or air jordans were sold no point shopping

29.5 hours's picture



"retail traffic plummeted by an unprecedented 21% last week"


I am partly to blame--and for that, I sincerely apologize. I'll try harder next year. Sorry.




Josh Randall's picture

Blame it on the Rain

XAU XAG's picture







Don't see many "Singing in the rain"


And talking of rain...............It's RAINING DEBT!

Bearwagon's picture

No, that ain't rain. TPTB are pissing on your back, and you should know it. ;-)

XAU XAG's picture


It's ok

as long as they KEEP's keeping us warm................but it's not a good feeling when they stop!

Bearwagon's picture

Don't let yourself be fooled. It is not a good feeling when they stop - just like it is not such a good feeling to come out of the warm shower and feel the chill. But it only lasts for a few moments (namely until you have dried yourself) and afterwards you feel refreshed and don't stink for a while. I guess there is a parallel to this situation ...