×

American Consumers Alive, But Are They Retail "Healthy?"

king_of_prussia_mall.jpg

After spending all of Friday and much of this holiday weekend at the largest mall on the East Coast, I have to say that the holiday traffic wasn't bursting the mall at its seams but it seemed healthy. On Friday alone, the King of Prussia mall in Pennsylvania, had between 170,000 to 175,000 shoppers walking and shopping its stores.

To be honest, I'm not sure how that stacks up versus individual malls elsewhere in the country. It is quite hard to get a consistent barometer/read of traffic and sales. All of the different agencies report numbers differently and seem to calculate them based on different metrics.

Take the international council of shopping centers report in partnership with UBS--those results paint a conservative picture of holiday shopping: more bargain hunters shopped during the first official week of holiday shopping than last year. Here's the bad news: shoppers spent less. In fact, sales declined a tenth of a percent during the holiday week from the week previous.

The ICSC sampled 60 retail chains around the country who reported sales are up 2.5% year over year. That's a smaller sales number than the 8.3% year over year black friday sales boom reported by retail industry group shoppertrak. It is more similar to the Johnson Redbook metric which reports that sales were up 2.4% year over year. But here's where they drastically differ: redbook sales sales were up 2.7% versus the prior week which ICSC sales that sales were down .1% versus the prior week.

Here's what is common: traffic levels were strong during the Thanksgiving holiday. The weather also helped. The coldest Black Friday in 16 years finally got shoppers to make those seasonal purchases. But profits were hit by promotions. When consumers purchased, they went for lower ticket prices.

What does this mean for November? The ICSC expects November same store sales to come in up 2.5% on the month. That is modest but healthy. Keep in mind the month of November is key. Department stores and discounters book around 30% of fourth quarter sales this month.

One caveat: malls owned by the publicly traded Simon Properties and general growth properties do not share their data with the ICSC so this sampling is not a complete picture. It is a very widely watched.

Bottom line: choose whichever metric you see fit but here's the point: the American consumer is alive but not quite robust. While the consumer will be shopping at Christmas, the buying binge seems to be slowing down in 2008.

Questions? Comments? retaildetail@cnbc.com