National Jeweler 10X - Putting Today's Issues Under Full Magnification

Making sense of Christmas just past

The results are in and frankly I have no idea who, if anyone, has won.

michelle-graffThis is one of the most confusing seasons for holiday sales results in recent memory (keeping in mind that I have only worked here for five years so my memory is not that long).

When we spoke to jewelers throughout the holidays, the overwhelming majority told us they were having a strong holiday season, including one Albany, Ga. retailer who had been struggling for four years.

In a post-Christmas interview, he said his business was up about 60 percent year-over-year. “I have no idea,” the retailer said, when asked what he thought prompted the turnaround. “Maybe (it’s) because they haven’t (bought jewelry) the last four years.”

That same day, though, other reports began to trickle in that painted a less-rosy retail picture of Christmas just past, using descriptors such as “disappointing” and “lackluster” to describe the holiday season. Analysts conjectured that the cataclysmic events of the fall–Hurricane Sandy and the horrific school shooting in Newtown, Conn.–combined with worries over the so-called fiscal cliff caused consumers to hold back on spending and/or focus on other priorities.

As January continued, specific stores began reporting their sales results and they were decidedly mixed.

Department store chains Macy’s, Target and Kohl’s all reported low single-digit increases in same-store sales, with management expressing disappointment at these results. But comps climbed 6 percent for the parent company of T.J. Maxx and Marshalls, exceeding company expectations, and U.S. same-store sales rose 8 percent for warehouse retailer Costco.

Among jewelry retailers, executives at Sterling Jewelers were happy with a 5 percent increase in same-store sales while Zale executives seemed satisfied with a comp increase of 2 percent. At Tiffany & Co., however, sales weighed in at the low end of expectations, with same-store sales in the Americas up 2 percent and flat worldwide.

Even online sales sputtered this holiday season, jumping 14 percent to $42.29 billion–an increase that would make any jeweler jubilant–but still falling short of what was expected.

So, what does it all mean? I don’t have a definite answer but my guess is that we are just seeing the continuing fracturing of sales. The remaining players all are vying for a reduced amount of consumer spending resulting in smaller sales increases across the board.

There is one more major benchmarking report that has yet to come in, that of the National Retail Federation (NRF), which is set to issue holiday numbers on Tuesday. In October, the NRF issued its most optimistic holiday sales forecast since the recession, calling for a 4 percent increase in holiday sales.

It will be interesting to see how the season measures up to the NRF’s prediction.

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