It seems Thanksgiving weekend's holiday shopping frenzy, which netted retailers almost $60 billion over the four-day period, was no match for the havoc wrought by October's Superstorm Sandy.
Stores such as Target and Macy's reported weak sales for November according to the Associated Press, as a gangbusters kickoff to the holiday shopping season wasn't enough to counteract slow sales recorded earlier in the month thanks to Sandy.
Hurricane Sandy, which tore through the Northeast in late October, knocked out power to much of the region for days, forcing retailers to close their doors in the most populous part of the country. Sandy-related closures cost retailers as much as $4 billion in sales according to some estimates, and Thursday's reports reaffirm that stores are still feeling the effects of the storm.
"Despite the largest-volume Thanksgiving weekend in our company's history, we were not able to overcome the weak start to the month, which included the disruption of Hurricane Sandy," Macy's CEO Terry Lundgren said in a release. Macy's, the nation's second largest department store company, recorded a 0.7 percent decline in November sales, the first time it has shown a drop in three years, the Wall Street Journal noted.
Target, too, pointed to weaker sales in the early days of the month for a 1 percent drop in sales, missing estimates of a 2.1 percent rise.
Weak sales for the month overall put a damper on strong numbers reported during the holiday weekend, which were up almost 13 percent over figures seen this time last year. On average, shoppers spent $423 over the entire weekend according to the National Retail Federation, compared to $398 last year.
November could be a prelude for a tough holiday shopping season for retailers, experts say. While the NRF predicts that sales will increase more than 4 percent in November and December to $586.1 billion, growth is more than a percentage point down from that of the last two years and the smallest increase since 2009, when sales were flat.
Still, Sandy could end up benefitting retailers—and the economy—in the long run, says Michael O'Hara, CEO of e-commerce website Yumani.
"There is no doubt that Sandy had, and will continue to have, an effect on select parts of the population in the Northeast," O'Hara said in an E-mail. "Long term, it will be beneficial for the economy as insurance companies start to settle their claims and [consumers begin replacing] items from clothing [and] furniture to appliances and electronics."
But while sales at brick-and-mortar stores might have stumbled in November, online transactions are soaring. Sales on so-called Cyber Monday increased 30 percent over 2011 according to some estimates, setting online shopping records and cementing the Web as a prime outlet for retailers.
"Whether it's featuring a QR code, linking customers to websites with price comparisons, or simply optimizing for mobile, the big winners this holiday weekend were [companies] that have invested in multi-channel strategies that let consumers shop in whatever way is most convenient for them—in the store, online, smartphone or tablets," Jay Henderson, strategy program director for smarter commerce at IBM, wrote in an E-mail.
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Meg Handley is a reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can reach her at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter at @mmhandley.