During the holiday period, general retail sales rose but because of unseasonably warm weather in
many parts of the country--which cut down on winter clothing
buying--and deep discounting that began on Black Friday, the gains were
not extraordinary. The hottest products included a range of
electronics, video games--and gift cards.
In fact, holiday gift card purchases were estimated to be
between $30 billion and $40 billion, according to the International
Council of Shopping Centers, and most of those cards are expected to be
redeemed in the five-week period that started the day after Christmas.
Another bright spot was online. Sales by online retailers rose 26% to
$23.11 billion, according to estimates by comScore Networks, as
reported by the AP. Strikingly the biggest gains came later in
December--online sales the week before Christmas rose 38% to $2.25
billion, an indication that customers' trust in online stores to ship
purchases in a timely manner is increasing.
The busiest Web sites measured by dollar sales were, in order, Amazon,
Dell, Yahoo and Wal-Mart. Sites with substantial sales gains were the
virtual extension of large chains Wal-Mart, Best Buy and Circuit City.
The fastest-growing online gift categories were jewelry and watches,
video games and consoles and event tickets, surpassing consumer
electronics, toys and apparel. Online sales this year should top $100
Scattered reports from booksellers were largely positive.
November was disappointing for Jim Orbaugh, owner of the Corner
Bookstore, Sandpoint, Idaho, but then momentum shifted. "It was a good
December and one of my better Christmases," Orbaugh told the Bonner
County Daily Bee. Children's fantasy and the Harry Potter titles were
popular gifts. The new-and-used bookseller also had a 20% sale on new
books, which boosted sales.
Despite some powerful storms in the region in November, Imprint
Bookstore, Port Townsend, Wash., reported sales comparable to last
year. Owner Judy Hartman told the Peninsula Daily News, "It seems at
least as good, or maybe a tiny bit better, than last year."
Although special orders decreased, sales during the Christmas season at
the Bookloft, Great Barrington, Mass., were the highest ever, owner
Eric Wilska told the Berkshire Eagle. Traffic in the store was "extremely busy." Wilska said his
customers like "social discourse."
Last week, gift card sales set new records at the Barnes & Noble in the Oglethorpe Mall, Savannah, Ga., according to the Savannah Morning News. Manager Jill Rivers said the store had had "a great season."
And at Fireside Books, Palmer, Alaska, gift card sales rose about 50%, owner David Cheezem told the Frontiersman.
Overall sales at the five-year-old store were the highest ever. "We're
on a growing curve," Cheezem said. "We've been growing every year."
a bookshop, Monroe, La., had a roller coaster year that will likely end
up 6% but includes a December that was down as much as 20%, according
to co-owner Elisabeth Grant-Gibson. October and November were
comparable to 2005.
The holiday catalogue produced by SIBA and Ingram was "very good for
us," Grant-Gibson continued. The store inserted the catalogue into the
local paper in mid-October, and through Christmas "we had people coming in
with marked catalogues and coupons." The catalogue also drew customers
from outlying areas and led to the sale of "quite a few expensive books
that we would never have stocked at all."
But overall the season started slowly and sales the last two days
before Christmas dropped 60% compared to the same two days the previous
year. Grant-Gibson attributed the drop to the final two days in 2006
being a Saturday and Sunday rather than a Friday and Saturday, as in 2005.
Hot books at Windows a bookshop included:
- Legend of Papa Noel: A Cajun Christmas Story by Terri Dunham, illustrated by Laura Knorr
- Before I Go by Riley Weston (the store's "huge sales" of
this novel occurred in part because of the author's visit to four area
high schools and because of the re-broadcast of Christmas at Water's
Edge, a TV movie she wrote and performed in)
- Miss American Pie: A Diary by Margaret Sartor (more than 1,050 sold and still moving)
- Mercy of Thin Air by Ronlyn Domingue (which is selling in both hardcover and paperback)
- The Encyclopedia of Cajun and Creole Cuisine by Chef John
Folse (the store sold 60 copies of this 10-lb. coffee table book that
came out several years ago and retails for $49.95)
- Deep South Parties and Deep South Staples by Robert St. John
- Mary by Janis Cooke Newman (the historical novel about Mary Todd Lincoln)
Hot sidelines were the Stuffed Penguin from Melissa & Doug and a range of Christmas CDs, including New Orleans Christmas (various artists, Putumayo), Wintersong by Sarah McLachlan, Cool Yule by Bette Midler, Christmas Celebration with Celtic Woman, Christmas Songs by Diana Krall, A Christmas Album by James Taylor and Christmas Around the World (various artists, Putumayo)