Laptops and toy hamsters fly off shelves in US holiday sales


US SHOPPERS flocked exuberantly to the stores yesterday for the traditional post-Thanksgiving sales, while maintaining the utilitarian focus that has replaced bubble-era excess since last September’s Wall Street crash.

The National Retail Federation said retailers in all sectors had reported “strong crowds” during the morning, while analysts said numbers seemed to be similar or slightly above levels seen last year.

“Budget-focused shoppers seemed to be pleasantly surprised with post-Thanksgiving deals,” said Tracy Mullin, the organisation’s chief executive.

Barry Judge, chief marketing officer of Best Buy, the consumer electronics retailer, told his Twitter followers that “lines look pretty good this year”, and that customer traffic “seems good versus last year”. But analysts said deals on basic items such as low-cost vacuum cleaners and coffee makers, as well as towels, bedding and luggage, had reflected a prevailing tone of practicality, as well as a bid by retailers to persuade consumers to spend again.

“Consumers have really been deferring a lot of their own purchases,” said Paul Leinwand, a retail consultant at Booz Company. “Understandably, shoppers have been thinking, ‘If it’s not broken, do I really need to replace it?’ ”

Janet Hoffman, a retail consultant at Accenture, said retailers had targeted more essential items. “There is an element of practicality out there, whether in the apparel or the home sector . . . The retailers want to make it easier for the consumer to spend,” she said.

The federation said the most popular items were HD televisions, laptops and winter coats, as well as the low-cost Zhu Zhu Pet robotic hamsters that have been this season’s hottest toy.

Marshal Cohen, head retail industry analyst at NPD Group, said the day had been driven by a mixture of “pent-up demand and frugal fatigue”, with shoppers coming to the stores with a clear idea of exactly what they wanted.

But in spite of the focus on practicality, few shoppers indicated any readiness to spend more this season.

– (Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009)