Friday, November 25, 2016

Black Friday Check-In

Black Friday retail traffic appears to be down from last year, but the story is not as simple as that. From the scant observations and hearsay available to me, Black Friday Eve shopping was up, Black Friday morning traffic was down sharply, and Black Friday afternoon traffic was up from last year. Online shopping was expected to be up sharply but there are not good metrics available yet. Analysts generally expect in-store purchases for Thanksgiving weekend to be down 3 percent from last year. Computing devices seem to be the hottest category, helping to explain the shift to online purchases. Mall apparel shops seem to be suffering the worst, with foot traffic said to be down about 20 percent from last year.

Mood is key, though, and no one seems to have a sense of the shopper’s mood. To retailers, there is a world of difference between a socks-and-sweaters mood and a home-theater mood. Retailers hope that the best wage growth in a decade this year will have shoppers spending more ambitiously, but there is little sign of that. Households wondering about moving to another country or the risk of losing jobs won’t be in a spending mood, and that effect could reduce retail totals even if the overall mood were positive. To show how complicated it is to summarize the mood of the shopper, here are summaries from five real people from today:

  • Worked in an office all day. Too tired to go out anywhere.
  • Spent the day visiting relatives. Surprised to get to the end of the day without having set foot in a store.
  • Purchased a software package online. Saved 50 percent with early Cyber Monday pricing.
  • Picked up pizza. Does that count?
  • Visited seven stores. Bought a reliable brand of jeans and a winter jacket.

It was going to take the biggest Black Friday ever to make up for sluggish sales earlier in November, and no one so far is suggesting that has happened. On the other hand, retail traffic was strong enough to say that this Christmas shopping season won’t be the debacle that some had feared.