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NEW YORK CITY-Holiday shoppers may be procrastinating once again, as November same-store sales dropped 0.3% from November 2008, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers’ Chain Store Sales Index.

The decline for the 32 chains reporting results came after two months of increases for the industry, and is particularly significant because of an easy year-over-year comparison.

“These data suggested that the holiday season got off to a weak start in November for retailers–though the tail-end of the month saw relatively strong sales for electronics and online spending, but that seemed to be at the expense of some in-store performance and apparel demand, in particular,” wrote ICSC chief economist and director of research Michael P. Niemira.

Hurt by above-average temperatures, apparel sales declined 0.4%. Abercrombie & Fitch’s weakness continued, with a 17% drop, while Ross Stores posted an 8% rise.

Department store sales dropped 4.5%, with luxury stores declining 6.9% and the teen segment down 5.5%. Dillards’ sales dropped 11%, while JCPenney reported a 4.5% drop. Nordstrom, however, posted a 2.2% increase. Discounters rose 0.6%, with TJX’s 8.0% increase offset by a 1.5% drop at Target. Drugstores rose 2.3%, as Walgreens sales rose 3.9% and Rite Aid’s dropped 0.8%. Wholesale clubs reported a 1.9% increase.

Retail Forward, a Columbus, Ohio-based consultancy, reported a 0.9% November same-store sales gain, adding that Black Friday was strong, and that last month’s increase, while not as strong as October’s 2.3% gain, was still much better than November 2008′s 7.7% decline.

“Shoppers continue to give signs that they are ready to loosen the grip on their spending plans, but at the same time remain very cautious and deal-focused in their spending,” said Frank Badillo, senior economist at Retail Forward.

ICSC-Goldman Sachs surveys have found that shoppers are planning to hit the stores later in the holiday season, boosting hopes for December. ICSC anticipates a 2% to 3% increase, for a total holiday sales rise of approximately 1%.

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