It was a mixed weekend for businesses hoping to hear cash registers jingle, with snow hampering shoppers in the Northeast even as retailers hoped the capture of Saddam Hussein might buoy consumer confidence.
Shoppers were out in force on Saturday, according to industry observers, but business dropped on Sunday for many stores, dampening by the second major snowstorm in the Northeast in just over a week.
Still, several experts said the news of Hussein's capture, revealed early Sunday, couldn't be a better holiday gift for merchants during the season's last, critical stretch.
"Ultimately, in the long run, this is going to put people in better spirits, and we are definitely excited that this has come during the holiday season," Ellen Tolley, a spokeswoman at the Washington-based National Retail Federation, said Sunday.
C. Britt Beemer, chairman of America's Research Group, in Charleston, S.C., believes Hussein's capture will result in improved consumer confidence that will translate "into bigger sales."
However, that remains to be seen.
Shoppers like Colleen Briggs, braving swirling snow while shopping Sunday at New York's Rockefeller Center, said they were pleased with the news, but it wouldn't make them open their wallets more.
"I'm glad they got him, but it's not going to make me spend more," Briggs said. The Tampa, Fla., resident, said she'll spend about $2,000 - the same amount as last year.
After the heavy snow Dec. 5-6 - which chilled business at many brick and mortar stores, but fueled online buying - executives were counting even more on a spending surge this past weekend to reverse lackluster sales. Last year, the second Saturday before Christmas was the third busiest day of the season.
Despite an economy on the rebound, consumers continue to be frugal, and seem to be waiting even later to do their holiday shopping than last year. While recent economic data have been cheery, personal job security is the most important factor in how much consumers spend.
"I held onto my job when everyone else was losing theirs and I feel like it's all coming back," said Jayne Huddleston, who was at the Galleria Mall in Dallas on Saturday, buying toys and sweaters for her young children. "I feel like our jobs are a bit more stable and neither one of us has been laid off. And if you can have your job, that's good."
She plans to spend about $500 this holiday season, about the same as last year.
Martha Vadney, from Albany, N.Y., who was shopping at Bloomingdale's in Manhattan on Saturday, said she doesn't feel any more confident than a year ago. While she believes her husband's job is secure, the couple still hasn't recouped their stock market losses.
Karen MacDonald, a spokeswoman at Bloomfield Hills, Mich.-based Taubman Centers, which owns or manages 31 shopping centers in 13 states, said that sales were up mid to single digits at stores on Saturday from a year ago, but business was slow on Sunday because of snowy conditions.
Major retailers, including Wal-Mart Stores Inc., and Target Corp. are expected to report their weekly results, including from this past weekend, on Monday.
Online sales have remained a bright spot this holiday season. Online sales, which exclude travel and auctions, were up 31 percent to $2.16 billion for the week ended Friday, according to comScore Networks Inc.
Sandy Morris, of Chicago, plans to buy most of her holiday presents online.
"I am 90 percent done with my shopping. I've done most of it online. I actually started a lot earlier this year because I knew I'd be ordering online so I left time for shipping," she said.
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