Registers Ring, Are You Listening? (Fool Plate Special) December 23, 1999

An Investment Opinion

Registers Ring, Are You Listening?

By Dave Marino-Nachison (TMF Braden)
December 23, 1999

You might think that, being Jewish, I could just sit back and observe the pre-Christmas shopping madness with bemusement served with a side dish of potato pancakes, applesauce, and sour cream.

But thanks to a mom nostalgic for her Catholic childhood days (long story), we've got two shopping seasons in the Nachison household -- and I was right there with the masses this week, praying to whomever might listen that the spoils of my e-shopping would arrive in time for our family's annual Christmas Day dinner.

By most accounts, the holiday shopping season has been a success. LJR Redbook Research's weekly sales report, released Tuesday, showed U.S. retail same-store sales (they measure sales at stores open at least a year, which leaves out openings and closings) up 3.7% from last year's levels for the week ended Dec. 18. For the month-to-date, sales were more than 4% ahead of the year-ago comparison.

More data? The National Retail Federation trade group thinks the final November/December total sales growth number will beat its 6.5% projection. Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi Ltd., which regularly publishes sales data, is looking for a rise of 5% to 5.5%, up from earlier forecasts of 4.5% to 5%. Shoppers, simply put, are smiling as a strong economy and low unemployment -- much like last year -- has meant more dollars to pull from pockets and put on credit cards. (Already feeling the sting of debt deferred? Click here.)

Goods have been racing out of the stores. Consumer electronics are hot; apparel is in; jewelry, housewares, and books are being wrapped faster than a Fu-Schnickens lyric; and Pok�mon is just going on being Pok�mon. (Incidentally, two Fools took on the Trainer mantle earlier this week to Duel over Pok�mon licensee 4Kids Entertainment (Nasdaq: KIDE).

It hasn't been all stars and popcorn strings, though. Retail bellwether Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT) has seen sales trail off recently, though it still expects to hit holiday targets. Things are on target at J.C. Penney (NYSE: JCP), though sales are still seen coming in flat for the month. And at Radio Shack operator Tandy (NYSE: TAN), the company couldn't get enough of the season's hottest electronic trinkets and the stock took a dive as early-December sales disappointed.

Sales have also been strong in the online space, though the malls have reportedly been busier as the proverbial sleigh has flown nearer to the proverbial chimney. Over the past few days, some companies have been stung by bad publicity as word spread that the jolly red man might not make it in time: that sort of news is exactly what Toys 'R' Us (NYSE: TOY) didn't want to have to report, but the company nevertheless confirmed late-summer suspicions with the revelation that some Internet orders won't be home in time for Christmas.

The holiday shopping season is unique not only in terms of its sheer intensity and volume -- and I don't mean of the holiday Muzak -- but in that everyone who's in the stores and online has the same deadline.

That means the season is all about fulfillment. If you're bricks-and-mortar, you've gotta have it in on the shelves when the people get there or they'll just go down the street. If you're online, you've gotta be absolutely, positively sure you can get it there on time, as ordered.

And if you're me, you've gotta be hoping my mom was waiting all year for a... She wouldn't be reading this, would she? Better not chance it.

Happy holidays, Fools.

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