NEW YORK (AP) — Holiday sales rose 3 percent, a major retail trade organization said Tuesday well below its forecast for a 4.1 percent gain.
The figures offer the latest evidence that shoppers held back on spending amid economic uncertainty in a season that accounts for as much as 40 percent of stores' annual revenue.
The National Retail Federation, the nation's largest retail industry group, said Tuesday that retail sales for November and December combined totaled $579.8 billion. December sales rose 2.1 percent while November sales rose 3.9 percent, according the federation's analysis of government data. The figures are being compared with the year-ago periods.
Holiday sales rose 5.6 percent in 2011 and 5.5 percent in 2010. The 2012 holiday figures marked the slowest sales growth since 2009, when sales rose 0.3 percent.
For the first time, the federation is counting online sales and sales from the auto parts and accessories business. But even non-store sales, which includes online sales, were below expectations for the two-month period. They rose 11 percent, below the 12 percent that the industry projected.
"For over six months, we've been saying that the fiscal cliff and economic uncertainty could impact holiday sales," Matthew Shay, president of the National Retail Federation, said in a statement. "As the numbers shows, these issues had a visible impact on consumer spending this holiday season."
The numbers were released as the thousands of retail executives are gathering in New York this week for the annual federation's convention to share strategies for 2013 and offer insights into shoppers' mindset. Retailers are being forced to reinvent themselves as shoppers increasingly shift to the Web and use their mobile devices to shop or do research. According to the federation, non-store sales accounted for 16 percent of holiday sales, up from 15 percent a year ago.