Electronics soar; clothing, luxury stumble

NEW YORK – Electronics sellers and online merchants thrived in November, particularly on Black Friday, but clothing and luxury merchants struggled, according to estimates released Wednesday.

Those results, combined with a trimmed sales prediction for retailers’ official November results, raise worries that some sectors could face tough going in the critical countdown to Christmas as they grapple with frugal Americans contending with job insecurity and tight credit.

There are some encouraging signs that shoppers are just a bit more open to discretionary purchases. The battered jewellery sector rose 4.6 per cent in November, according to MasterCard Advisors’ SpendingPulse sales figures being released Wednesday.

Overall, according to SpendingPulse, which estimates sales in all payment forms including cash and checks, November sales proved to be “a mixed bag,” said Kamalesh Rao, director of Economic Research.

Both apparel and luxury excluding jewellery weakened in November after showing signs of life in the fall. Sales for mall-based apparel chains fell 5.7 per cent, on top of an 11.3 per cent decrease last year. Rao noted that the apparel chains showed improvement over the holiday weekend, as shoppers scooped up discounted items, resulting in flat sales on Black Friday compared with a year ago.

But department stores suffered an 8.6 per cent drop in November, on top of a 6.3 per cent decline last year. On Black Friday, sales for this sector fell 4 per cent.

Electronics sales, helped by new video game releases, rose 6.6 percent. What further helped boost the monthly figure was a robust 8 percent sales gain on Black Friday, according to SpendingPulse. Meanwhile, the data service offered more evidence that online sales are roaring back. Online sales soared 12.3 percent in November compared with November 2008, when sales increased 8.3 percent. No figures were available for Black Friday performance.

Luxury sales, excluding jewellery, fell 7.3 per cent for November compared with an 11.3 percent drop a year ago. Rao suspects that milder weather might have helped dampen apparel sales.

The figures come ahead of reports set for Thursday by major retailers on November sales.