Cautious shoppers ease back into spending mode

NEW YORK (AP) - Electronics sellers and online merchants thrived in November, particularly the start of the holiday shopping season, but clothing and luxury merchants struggled, according to estimates released Tuesday.

Those results raise worries that some sectors could face tough going in the critical countdown to Christmas as they grapple with frugal Americans contending with job insecurity and tight credit.

Bryan Wachter, deputy director of the Retail Association of Nevada, said nationally sales increased by .5 percent over the weekend compared to the Black Friday weekend in 2008.

"We were projecting sales were going to remain stagnant from last year," Wachter said. "We were hoping and praying for same sales as last year, but we actually saw an increase."

He said sales figures for Nevada retailers will be available later this week.

In Nevada, shoppers are expected to shell out on average $638 for a total of $1.2 billion this holiday shopping season, according to the Retail Association of Nevada - an increase from last year's shopping season when Nevadans spent just $616 on average.

Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at market research firm NPD Group, says that what's comforting is that shoppers, who had slashed their spending all year, bought plenty of items for themselves this past weekend. That means there's plenty of gift buying to go, he said.

Analysts are carefully studying how consumers behave during the holidays and beyond to get a sense of how strongly the economy will rebound from the worst recession since the 1930s. That's because spending on goods and services for consumers accounts for about 70 percent of U.S. economic activity by federal measures. The holiday season accounts for as much as 40 percent of annual sales and profits for many retailers.

Both apparel and luxury excluding jewelry weakened in November after showing signs of life in the fall. Sales for mall-based apparel chains fell 5.7 percent, on top of an 11.3 percent decrease last year. Luxury sales, excluding jewelry, fell 7.3 percent for November compared with an 11.3 percent drop a year ago.

Electronics sales, helped by new video game releases, rose 6.6 percent. What further helped boost the monthly figure was a robust 8 percent sales gain on Black Friday, according to SpendingPulse.

Meanwhile, the data service offered more evidence that online sales are roaring back. Online sales soared 12.3 percent in November compared with November 2008, when sales increased 8.3 percent. No figures were available for Black Friday performance.

Jolene Miley, owner of Cherokee Scents Candle Company, LLC., a gift boutique in the Carson Mall, said while there was no major increase in customers in her store on Black Friday, she said she is seeing her bottom line improve.

"It was not any different than any other day," Miley said. "Overall my sales were up in November. They're starting out pretty good for December. So keep your fingers crossed."

• Nevada Appeal reporter Brian Duggan contributed to this report.


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