Only Best Buy had its busiest December shopping day actually fall on Saturday, Dec. 22. Still, the Saturday before Christmas -- or Super Saturday -- ranked in the top three busiest days for nearly all of the six big-box retailers surveyed. Others had their busiest days on Sunday, Dec. 23 (Wal-Mart, Macy's, Kohl's), Christmas Eve (Target) or Saturday, Dec. 15 (Kohl's).
Placed Inc.'s survey -- based on foot traffic, not sales -- analyzed which stores were the most successful at raking in customers on Super Saturday, Christmas Eve and Dec. 26. The company's report is based on 720 million measured locations during the holiday shopping season. Shoppers installed Placed Inc.'s "Panel" app on their smartphones and agreed to have their location tracked.
The day after Christmas saw big gains in traffic for Apple, as well as cosmetic retailers Sephora and Ulta, according to Placed. Macy's, which extended its hours on Christmas Eve, saw strong in-store traffic that day.
"It's clear that a single day does not make or break a retailer's holiday season," said David Shim, founder and CEO of Placed.
Still, it was a holiday season of high expectations, as several economic indicators suggested retailers would see more robust sales. ICSC, a trade group that tracks more than 25 retail chains, expects more modest results, projecting that sales at stores open at least a year would climb 3 percent in November and December, slower than the 3.3 percent gain last year. The group maintained its projection that comparable-store sales for December, set to be released Thursday, increased 4 percent to 4.5 percent.
Overall, it was a season for bargain hunters, said Britt Beemer of America's Research Group in South Carolina. Consumers started their holiday season with bargains on Black Friday, but they didn't return to serious shopping until the Saturday and Sunday before Christmas.
"The majority of shoppers surveyed said they were going to shop mostly on Black Friday and the last weekend before Christmas, and that's what they did," Beemer said.
Retailers, in turn, were more creative to cope with sluggish demand by controlling inventories heading into the holidays, which enabled them to limit discounts.
Analysts estimate earnings per share for consumer-discretionary retailers in the Standard & Poor's 500 index will increase about 13 percent in the fourth quarter, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. A year earlier, profit slipped 3.4 percent on a share-weighted basis.
"The retailers coming out of the holiday season on top have done an excellent job with their inventories," said Megan Donadio, a New York-based retail strategist for consulting firm Kurt Salmon. "They've planned promotions carefully to ensure profitability."
Bloomberg News contributed to this report. John Ewoldt 612-673-7633 or firstname.lastname@example.org.