Retail same-store sales excluding Walmart increased 3.0% in December as shoppers gave a particular boost to apparel spending during the holidays, Retail Forward reports.

The sales-weighted composite for the 32 retailers reporting – most of them apparel retailers – was better than the 0.9% same-store sales gain last month and the 4.1% decline in December of 2008 for the same measure calculated without Walmart.  Including Walmart, same-store sales were down 1.5% in December of 2008.

“The trend through the holidays is now pretty clear that shoppers are moving toward stronger spending into 2010.  But it's also clear that some cautiousness will persist and that spending will remain uneven across categories and retailers,” said Frank Badillo, Senior Economist at Retail Forward, a Kantar Retail Company.

December's results were led by stronger than average results at Apparel and Accessory Stores.  Results at Department Stores lagged, although they posted a composite gain.  Food, Drug and Mass retailers reported composite results close to the average.  

The strong results at apparel stores occurred as holiday apparel shopping was skewed toward apparel specialty retailers, somewhat at the expense of department stores, according to the December ShopperScape survey by Retail Forward.  Meanwhile, dollar stores led the continued strength among discount retailers:

  • Apparel specialty retailers showed significant improvement in terms of the percentage of households shopping apparel stores (a six percentage point gain) and purchasing a gift at apparel stores (a four percentage point gain) compared with a year ago.
  • Department stores such as JCPenney, Kohl's, Sears and Macy's slipped in terms of the percentage of households purchasing a gift at the department stores.
  • Small format value retailers, including dollar stores, also posted significant gains in terms of the percentage of households shopping and purchasing a gift at the stores.
  • Discount department stores and supercenters led by Walmart and Target held their ground as the stores where the largest percentage of households shopped and purchased gifts.

In terms of competition from online retailers, weighed heaviest on sales at stores while online performance was mixed among other online retailers, according to ShopperScape's results.

  • More than half of all households shopped for holiday gifts at, an eight percentage point gain compared with 2008.  Meanwhile, the rate at which Amazon converted shoppers to purchasers held steady (72%) despite the increase in shoppers.
  • registered a slight increase in online shoppers, but recorded an eight percentage point drop in its conversion rate.
  • Department stores such as JCPenney and Macy's were particularly weak online in terms of their online conversion, with Macy's online conversion rate dropping by 11 percentage points.
Giving a boost to holiday spending this year has been households' perceptions that their financial health is much better than last year in terms of the value of their investments and their home, although incomes remain a drag.

  • Less than one-third of households said in December that they are worse off than last year in terms of their investments, which is a big improvement from a year ago when more than half of all households felt worse off in terms of their investments.
  • Incomes remain a growing concern.  In December, the percentage of households that said they are worse off in terms of household income increased slightly.  And the percentage of households that said they feel better off in terms of their income declined.