Retailers need look no further than themselves to blame for their dismal sales this past holiday season, according to a survey from Deloitte & Touche USA.

The January survey found consumers were either unable to buy, or chose not to buy, an item for various reasons ranging from a lack of customer service to the item not being in stock and/or the store being difficult to navigate.

“Shoppers can't buy it if they can't find it,” Pat Conroy, vice chairman of Deloitte & Touche USA and managing principal of its consumer business group said in a statement. It continued, “Better managing inventory, ensuring that store staffing matches shopper traffic and improving selling behaviors are just a few of the ways that retailers can enhance customer conversions.”

As the final 2006 holiday retail sales figures are still being tabulated, the Big Four accounting firm offers this postmortem explaining why the industry's anemic single-digit sales estimates will be lower than earlier forecasts. Deloitte's findings corroborate a December 2006 study by America's Research Group, which found 22.6 percent of shoppers left stores without buying anything because they couldn't get service. That was up from 20.9 percent in 2005.

Not everyone had problems. Saks Inc.'s chain of luxury department stores, Saks Fifth Avenue, reported for the five weeks ended December 31, 2006, its same-store sales surged 11.1 percent compared to the same period a year earlier. Women's apparel, designer shoes and handbags, and men's accessories were considered among Saks' best sales performers, says spokesperson Julia Bentley.

“We experienced no problems,” says Bentley. “We had no shortages, our stores were well stocked and we have a great number of experienced and trained sales associates.”

Deloitte's research offered among the best ways for retailers to turn shoppers into buyers is to build on brand recognition, deliver a pleasant shopping experience and fulfill brand promises.

The survey, commissioned by Deloitte, was conducted in early January. It polled 1,100 consumers nationwide and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

64%
said the item or size they were looking for was out of stock

52%
said a sales associate was not readily available to help them

57%
said the line at the register was too long

32%
said a sales associate could not answer the question they asked