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Holiday Season Spending Rises 15% Over 1997

Consumers: Poll says average amount was $1,148. Retailers say the period was also better for them.

January 19, 1999|From Bloomberg News

NEW YORK — American Express Co. said U.S. consumers spent 15% more this holiday season compared with last year, though they spent 14% less than they had planned.

Shoppers polled by the financial services company said they spent an average of $1,148 on holiday expenses, including gifts and travel. More than half of retailers said the season was stronger than 1997's, with a third saying sales rose 10% or more.

The survey was conducted Dec. 28-30 and involved 500 consumers and 275 retailers. It was released Monday at the National Retail Federation's annual convention here.

U.S. retailers had their best holiday season in six years, capped by better-than-expected December sales, analysts said. Sales lagged at the start of the season as unusually warm weather slowed winter clothing sales. Sales picked up just before and after Christmas as temperatures dropped and shoppers sought low prices.

Sales at stores open at least a year rose 5.6% in December, according to Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi Ltd., which tracks about 85 retailers. In the last two months, sales rose 5.1%, the most for the period since a 5.6% gain in 1992, Bank of Tokyo said.

Consumers have been shopping later in the holiday season in recent years as they procrastinate or wait for price cuts. This past season, some analysts also predicted that consumers might not spend as much as they'd planned because the warm weather got shopping off to a slow start.

The American Express retail index found that 43% of consumers completed their shopping in the two to three days before Christmas. Twenty percent said they shopped for gifts the day after, and 30% said they'd continue to shop for gifts into 1999, drawn by price markdowns.

About 6% of consumers said they used the Internet to buy gifts this season, three times as many as last year. Retailers also said their online sales tripled.

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