NEW YORK (AP) — The financial strains and shifting shopping habits of Americans have led to uneven fortunes for retailers.
Traditional consumer companies like Wal-Mart and Mattel have continued to struggle as Americans spend more cautiously in the uncertain economy. Meanwhile, Amazon.com has flourished as shoppers increasingly buy online rather than head to stores.
The trend was evident during the pivotal holiday shopping season, a time roughly from November through December when many retailers can make up to 40 percent of their annual revenue. Overall, government figures show that spending during October through December rose at the fastest clip in three years.
But exactly where — and how — Americans spent their money during the final months of the year shifted. Fewer people were in and out of stores during the holiday season, but more were shopping online.
Online shopping rose 10 percent to $46.5 billion in November and December, according to research firm Comscore. Meanwhile, sales at stores rose just 2.7 percent to $265.9 billion, according to ShopperTrak, which tracks data at 40,000 stores in the U.S. And the number of customers in stores dropped 14.6 percent.
"Consumer behavior evolved quickly, as retail foot traffic fell, while online purchases grew," said Mattel's CEO, Bryan Stockton, in a call with investors on Friday.
Mattel on Friday reported results for the fourth quarter — which included the holiday shopping season — that missed both analysts' estimates and the company's own expectations. The world's largest toy maker said the disappointing results were due to weak sales of Barbie and other toys. "From my perspective, the 2013 holiday period has to be one of the most transformative I have seen," Stockton said.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. also expects disappointing results during the period that includes the holiday shopping season. On Friday, the world's largest retailer said its fiscal fourth-quarter and full-year adjusted earnings from continuing operations may come in at or slightly below the low end of its prior forecasts.
Chief Financial Officer Charles Holley in part blamed a bigger-than-expected impact from the federal government's reduction in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits — or food stamps — that went into effect on Nov. 1. That pressured its primarily low-income consumers.