Holiday sales higher than predicted, though more did 'browsing' online

The latest sales data from the holiday season shows that U.S. shoppers increasingly prefer to research clothes, TVs and shoes online, or “virtual window shop,” before heading to stores.
By ANNE D'INNOCENZIO Modified: January 8, 2014 at 7:33 pm •  Published: January 9, 2014

Window shopping is taking on a new meaning for many Americans.

The latest sales data from the holiday season shows that U.S. shoppers increasingly prefer to research clothes, TVs and shoes online, or “virtual window shop,” before heading to stores.

ShopperTrak, which tracks data at 40,000 stores in the U.S., said on Tuesday that sales in November and December rose 2.7 percent to $265.9 billion. That was better than the 2.4 percent growth the data tracker expected for the season.

Sales may have grown, but there were fewer people in stores. In fact, the number of store visits shoppers made during the holiday season dropped 14.6 percent to 17.6 billion.

The data signals a continued shift in how Americans are shopping. Analysts say if shoppers are doing most of their research before they get to stores, they will be less likely to browse the racks and shelves once they're in stores. And ultimately, that could change how stores market to shoppers.

C. Britt Beemer, chairman of America's Research Group, a consumer research company, said shoppers came into stores during the holiday season with a list of specific things to buy to make sure they wouldn't spend more.

“They did less browsing,” he said. “They knew exactly what they wanted to buy.”

Andrew McSherry, 44, said he certainly shops that way. “I tend to do precision shopping,” said McSherry, who lives in Atlanta. “I'm not a browser. I'm a person who figures out what I want and goes to get it.”

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