This year Black Friday did not live up to the hype, but even when it does the traditional busiest shopping day of the year is the Saturday before Christmas. This year the retail sector was looking for a big weekend before Christmas to make up for a generally lackluster December, and from what I saw yesterday in my local area, shoppers did not disappoint. From 9 a.m. until well after dark it was easily the heaviest weekend traffic of the year. The stores I ventured into had mostly long lines, if not steadily all day long.
There are good reasons why the Saturday before Christmas remains such a big deal even as Christmas shopping in general has shifted above Black Friday on the calendar. On any given Thursday or Friday, many workers get paid. Earlier paychecks can be spent at any time, but for someone getting ready for Christmas, the best time to spend the last paycheck before Christmas is the last Saturday before Christmas. That yesterday saw such heavy traffic shows how many Christmas shoppers need that last paycheck to fund their Christmas celebrations.
There is also the procrastination effect. The last weekend before Christmas is the time when gift shopping can’t plausibly be put off any longer. Add both effects to the normal Saturday shopping and you tend to get the busiest shopping day of the year.
The consumer mood was boosted this Christmas by the absence of a federal government shutdown threat for the first time in years, as Congressional Republicans could not agree on a shutdown strategy. The Fed rate hike last week could have added to the feeling of confidence, even if it will take another year for consumers to see the boost in income from interest on their savings accounts. That shoppers are out in force this weekend says that there isn’t so much concern about the prospects for the economy over the next few months.