Economy

Holiday sales up, but fewer people in stores

NEW YORK (AP) — Window shopping is taking on a new meaning for many Americans.

The latest sales data from the holiday season shows that U.S. shoppers increasingly prefer to research clothes, TVs and shoes online, or "virtual window shop," before heading to stores. ShopperTrak, which tracks data at 40,000 stores in the U.S., said on Tuesday that sales for in November and December rose 2.7 percent to $265.9 billion. That was better than the 2.4 percent growth the data tracker expected for the season.

Sales may have grown, but there were fewer people in stores. In fact, the number of store visits shoppers made during the holiday season dropped 14.6 percent to 17.6 billion. The data signals a continued shift in how Americans are shopping. Analysts say if shoppers are doing most of their research before they get to stores, they will be less likely to browse the racks and shelves once they're in stores. And ultimately, that could change how stores market to shoppers.

C. Britt Beemer, chairman of America's Research Group, a consumer research company, said shoppers came into stores during the holiday season with a list of specific of things to buy to make sure they wouldn't spend more.

"They did less browsing," he said. "They knew exactly what they wanted to buy." Andrew McSherry, 44, said he certainly shops that way. "I tend to do precision shopping," said McSherry, who lives in Atlanta. "I'm not a browser. I'm a person who figures out what I want and goes to get it."

The ShopperTrak numbers, which do not include online sales, in some ways give retailers hope for their brick-and-mortar stores. The data shows that Americans are at least still willing to go into stores despite the fact that they've been spending more online in recent years.

To be sure, online sales did grow during the holiday season. But they weren't as robust as previously expected. Online sales, not included those from mobile devices, rose 10 percent to $46.5 billion in November and December, according to comScore. That was lower than the 14 percent growth the research firm had expected.

The National Retail Federation, the nation's largest retail trade group, is expected to release holiday sales numbers for online and stores combined on Tuesday. The group estimates that sales grew 3.9 percent to $602.1 billion. That would be higher than the 3.5 percent increase that it calculated in 2012.

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