Monday, December 2, 2013

Black Friday Weekend Pattern and the Declining Consumer Class

From my vantage point it looked like a robust Black Friday at retail, but Saturday and Sunday were a dud, with only a few places where retail traffic was stronger than a regular weekend. This also fits the early reports from the retail sector, which put Thanksgiving and Black Friday slightly above last year, but the next two days well below, looking at both sales volume and number of shoppers.

Another way of saying this is that by the time Black Friday was over, people had spent most of the money they had available to spend — and perhaps it goes without saying, shoppers are still not reaching for the credit card to finance their Black Friday deficits. This accounts for the largest drop ever between Black Friday and the day after. Part of the explanation for the revenue decline too is steeper discounting than last year. That especially hits after Black Friday. If someone is still shopping after Black Friday is over, it is to fill a specific gap in the Christmas list, not to spend a particular shopping budget. If they can get the same item for less money, that just means more money for next year.

You might ask, what’s the point of Black Friday, if the net effect is to get people to shop on Friday instead of Saturday and Sunday? But this makes perfect sense if you see the Christmas shopping season as a kind of auction, with many competing retailers and a limited number of shoppers. From the retailers’ point of view, they have to get shoppers’ money early in the season or risk not getting it at all. In a way, then, the early Christmas shopping season, which seems to get earlier every year, is a sign of the economic decline of the middle class, which no longer has the capacity to support its traditional place in the U.S. economy. The middle class has been in decline since the 1970s, the victim of tax policies that increasingly favor the billionaire-investor class. It is the latter who are financing so many retail stores, more stores than the middle-class shopper can possibly support.