Online, sales rose just 8.4 percent to $48 billion from Oct. 28 through Saturday, according to a measure by MasterCard Advisors' SpendingPulse. That is below the online sales growth of between 15 to 17 percent seen in the prior 18-month period, according to the data service, which tracks all spending across all forms of payment, including cash.
Attempting to drum up enthusiasm, retailers have expanded hours and stepped up discounts. Toys R Us stores are staying open for 88 consecutive hours beginning Friday at 6 a.m. through Christmas Eve at 10 p.m. Macy's opened most stores from Friday at 7 a.m. until Sunday at midnight. And other retailers like Target and Nordstrom expanded hours at some locations.
At the malls, overall promotions were up 2 to 3 percent from last year heading into the weekend, after being down 5 percent earlier in the season, according to BMO Capital Markets sales rack index, which tracks the depth and breadth of discounts.
At The Garden State Plaza, teen retailer Aeropostale discounted all clothing and accessories by 60 percent. Charles David, Cachet and AnnTaylor had cut prices by 50 percent of all merchandise. At AnnTaylor, racks of discounted clothes had been marked down by an additional 25 percent. One dress, originally priced at $118, was marked down to $49 but with the additional 25 percent, it cost $21.30.
But the deals at the mall failed to impress Wendy McCloskey, 35, of Lebanon, Ind., who started her holiday shopping Sunday at the Castleton Square Mall in Indianapolis. The snow storm that blew through the Midwest this week delayed her shopping plans, and a busy schedule with her children also got in the way. She has two teenagers and a 12-year-old, and they are all involved in sports.
She wanted to buy shoes at the Finish Line online, but balked at paying $40 for shipping. In the store, she bought five pairs of sneakers for $390. But she'd expected to see bigger discounts at the mall.
"I was so surprised. I figured they'd have better deals," she said.
Anne D'Innocenzio reported from New York. Tom Murphy in Indianapolis contributed to this report.
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