Monday, December 1, 2008

Initial Spending Stronger Than Expected Over Black Friday Weekend

While it's a little too early for full-fledged yodeling, early surveys of retailers show that shoppers were out in force last weekend, and spending more than many had predicted as they trolled for holiday bargains.

The National Retail Federation's 2008 Black Friday Weekend survey--which measured Friday and Saturday, and used estimates for Sunday--indicates that some 172 million Americans shopped in stores and Web sites over Thanksgiving weekend, an increase from last year's 147 million. NRF estimates they spent an average of $372.57--a 7.2% jump from the $347.55 spent last year, with total spending projected at $41 billion.

"Pent-up demand on electronics and clothing, plus unparalleled bargains on this season's hottest items, helped drive shopping all weekend," the trade group says in its release. "Holiday sales are not expected to continue at this brisk pace, but it is encouraging that Americans seem excited to go shopping again."

By day measurement, the NRF says one big change is the sharp increase in the number of people who didn't wait for Black Friday and took to the mall even before their turkey and pumpkin pie was fully digested. Some 16.2 million people shopped on Thursday, an increase of 48% from last year. Black Friday lived up to its reputation, with 73.6 million people shopping. Just over 23% were at stores by 5 a.m., while 57.6% punched in by 9. About 56.9 million people shopped on Saturday, an increase from 48.3 million last year. NRF estimated that another 26.2 million people planned to shop on Sunday.

By channel, the trade group says 54.7% visited discount stores, 43% shopped at traditional department stores, and about a third checked out specialty stores, including clothing and electronics stores, (36.0%) and shopped online (34.0%). And by category, spending was typical, except for a 10% decline in the use of gift cards.

ShopperTrak RCT, a Chicago-based company that tracks retail results, also saw encouraging levels of spending--reporting a 3% gain from last year, with Black Friday sales totaling $10.6 billion. Spending was strongest in the South, at 3.4%--followed by the Midwest, up 3%, the West, up 2.7%, and the Northeast, up 2.6%.

Forecasters, however, are reluctant to read too much into these early results. For one thing, ShopperTrak executives point out, a later-than-usual Thanksgiving means that consumers have just 27 days to shop this year, compared to 32 last year. And, perhaps because of intense consumer anxiety about the economy, many in this weekend's crowd were actually closer to finishing their shopping, not starting.

The NRF, still predicting a total increase of just 2% for the season, says Americans have completed slightly more shopping than they had one year ago (39.3% vs. 36.4%), "indicating that traffic and sales over the next several weeks will moderate."

(source: Sarah Mahoney, Sunday, Nov 30, 2008,

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