Retailers feel the holiday shopping hangover

As with anything fun, any high only lasts so long. Sooner or later, the hangover sets in. Just as the reality sets in after a long night of binging, retailers are reaching for a Powerade after record sales the last week of November.

Although a lull happens every year post-Thanksgiving, this year's dip will be especially harsh. According to the latest America's Research Group/UBS Christmas Forecast, 58.8 percent of American shoppers plan to wait for mark-downs and last-minute deals rather than buying gifts or items for themselves at full price. This is over 10 percent more than last year's number, and enough of a drop to make the blood drain from designer's and retailer's faces.

Even Tiffany's is having markdowns on 
classic pieces like their dog-tog collection

Take into account the recession, gift buying season, warmer-than-average temperatures and layering trends, and you have a perfect storm for creating a downturn in sales numbers. During the holiday season, very few are buying for themselves. They're buying for other people, as gifts, which more often than not does not include clothing. People are more likely to buy one-size-fits-all items like jewelry and other accessories, eliminating the possibility that their gift might not fit the recipient. Shoes fit in this category, to a lesser extent. The only clothing items holding steady in profit are staple pieces like blazers and parkas, which don't go out of style from season to season. Just another way consumers are tightening their belts when it comes to their wardrobe budget.

Sale sign in Union Square during Black Friday

Weather in the US, and on the East coast especially, hasn't gotten around to typical cold winter temperatures yet, and New York City is still having days in the 60s. Because of this, there was not a rush to buy winter wear in November. Consumers are waiting until the snow starts to fall and temperatures fall another 10-20 degrees before opening their wallets and shelling out the cash for a new seasonal wardrobe. And they've found that this is paying off, since by the time the weather is cold enough for heavy sweaters and jackets, all these pieces will be on sale as retailers start stocking collections for spring. Instead of paying $500 for a wool pair of pants, buyers can opt for wool tights and still be dressing for the weather. But even when it does get colder, consumers are skipping out on heavy pieces and instead layering lighter ones they already own. A dark fall dress can be worn over tights with a jacket and boots, eliminating the need for new wardrobe items. So while this is all well and good for people's wallets, clothing stores are struggling to convince them to buy new styles.

Shoppers are spending less money on clothing, 
and more moneyon giftable items 
like jewelry (young&ng)

Julia deVille

But the horizon isn't all gloomy. According to Women's Wear Daily, 27.3 percent of shoppers spent more than their budget on Christmas shopping, and profits for shoppers said they were less likely to shop at discount and big box stores like Walmart for gifts this year. There's also one more shopping day between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year (30 instead of 29) and Hanukkah falls towards the end of December as well. So while many retailers are nervously checking their books, hoping to make a decent profit this shopping season, many signs are indicating that it just might all even out in the end.