Nov 23, 2008
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Retail sales struggle in early November

Nov 23, 2008

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Sales of apparel, shoes and appliances fell dramatically in the first two weeks of November, as consumers worried about a recession and job losses further cut spending, MasterCard Advisors said in a report.

The results from SpendingPulse provide an early look into the strength of the crucial U.S. holiday sales season, which traditionally begins on the day after Thanksgiving. This year, the major holiday sales period begins on Friday, November 28.

Analysts are predicting the worst holiday sales season in nearly two decades.

Overall apparel sales are down 19 percent from the same period a year ago, according to a report by SpendingPulse, the retail data service of MasterCard Advisors, an arm of MasterCard Worldwide. Apparel sales fell 5.5 percent in September and 12.2 percent in October.

Women's apparel fell 19.7 percent in the first half of November compared with last year, with men's apparel down 20.5 percent.

Footwear sales fell 11 percent, and electronics and appliance sales dropped a steep 22.1 percent, according to the report. Total luxury sales, which includes jewelry and high-end luxury stores, fell 21.1 percent.

Internet sales showed the most modest decline of the period, at 7.5 percent.

SpendingPulse's report includes sales from November 1 to November 15 and comes on the heels of dismal October sales, as consumers focused on essential purchases as the global financial crisis deepened.

"It's still very, very challenging. We've been seeing a deteriorating retail environment for some time, but in the last 10 days of October things started to deteriorate rapidly. That's continuing in November," said Michael McNamara, vice president of SpendingPulse.

Sales were better in the second week of November than the first, as consumers previously distracted by the U.S. election returned to the stores and gasoline prices eased.

"Sales are getting better in relative terms compared to where they had been in October and the first week in November in several categories" such as apparel, McNamara said.

(Reporting by Sarah Coffey, editing by Matthew Lewis)

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