It has been a startlingly slow Christmas shopping season so far from what I am seeing locally in southeastern Pennsylvania. With half-hearted retail displays and retailers also holding back on discounts, no one could fault shoppers for holding out. It was not until the lunch hour at Thursday, November 17, one week before Thanksgiving, that I saw the first inkling of holiday shopping traffic. All Sunday afternoon, there was conspicuous retail traffic, though this may have been boosted by the fact that the local NFL team was playing a night game. But the heavy traffic on the streets did not arrive until this afternoon.
I am not sure this means a mob of shoppers will come out on Black Friday, either. I have seen a noticeably lower level of conversation surrounding the leaked and officially released Black Friday offerings. Instead, the main Black Friday headline thus far is about the petition to shorten Black Friday. Workers and shoppers are asking stores not to open until around 5 a.m. to give people a chance to enjoy Thanksgiving. If there is an especially busy day on Black Friday, the traditional peak of the shopping season, it still would not make up for the sales lost over the last three weeks. The slow start does not have retailers scaling back expectations by much yet, though they worry about low prices and thin profit margins.
Shoppers may have bought presents already without creating extra traffic. Many gifts were purchased during the summer, particularly at the Borders liquidation. Many Christmas-season items are picked up during other store visits to save time. Some of this year’s top wish list items, notably the iPad, don’t require a store visit. So it may be that shoppers are shopping, but trying to do it without the extra driving that generates the heavy traffic of Christmas season.