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Bargain shoppers pack stores

After-Christmas sales attract clearance hopefuls

Posted: December 26, 2008 10:04 p.m.
Updated: December 27, 2008 4:55 a.m.

Shoppers flock the Valencia Town Center in search of holiday bargains in this 2006 file photo.

 

Becky and Matt Christensen walked into Sports Chalet in Stevenson Ranch on Friday with a return; unexpectedly, they walked out with more than $300 worth of ski wear.

"I probably wouldn't have bought that much if it wasn't on sale," said Becky Christensen of Stevenson Ranch, who picked up a ski jacket for herself and some gear for her son Matt at 40 percent off.

By mid-afternoon, multiple lines at Sport Chalet spread halfway through the store. A greeter stood at the door passing out circulars pushing 50 percent off already-reduced footwear, apparel and gear.

Some parking lots and stores were jam-packed with shoppers looking for day-after Christmas sales and gift returners.

But during a Christmas shopping season in which many Americans were unwilling to spend, even a packed lot doesn't always translate into holiday cheer for stores.

Daniel Ordaz, a 20-year after-Christmas shopper, wasn't too impressed with the bargains he saw. Ordaz, of Valencia, said a reason for the disappointing sales could be that pre-Christmas sales hogged the spotlight.

"(After-Christmas) sales aren't as great as last year," he said. "You gotta look a little harder."

That kind of focus by shoppers could spell deep trouble for the nation's stores, which are facing the worst holiday shopping season in decades.

Holiday sales - which typically account for 30 percent to 50 percent of a retailer's annual total - have been less than jolly. Job cuts, portfolio losses and other economic woes led many Americans to cut back on their spending.

According to preliminary data from SpendingPulse, which tracks purchases paid for by credit card, checks or cash, retail sales fell between 5.5 percent and 8 percent during the holiday season compared with last year. Excluding auto and gas sales, they fell 2 percent to 4 percent, according to SpendingPulse.

Apparently more people did shop online, particularly in the last two weeks of the season, when many parts of the nation were snowbound. Online sales dipped just 2.3 percent, SpendingPulse said.

A fuller indicator of how retailers fared will arrive Jan. 8, when major stores report sales for December.

Many stores are likely to report a loss for the fourth quarter, said Marshal Cohen, senior retail analyst for a retail research firm.

Stores were hoping big discounts the day after Christmas could lure people out and help stem those losses. Although some malls appeared to be busy with bargain-hunters and gift-returners, analysts said traffic appeared to be lighter than in years past.

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