The “official” numbers on Black Friday retail activity were mixed and the mixture did little to help analysts have a reasonable picture of what the rest of the holidays will bring.
The data from the National Retail Federation showed 195 million shoppers visited stores and websites over Black Friday weekend, up from 172 million last year. However, average spending dropped to $343.31 per person from $372.57 a year ago. Total spending reached an estimated $41.2 billion. The figures include spending for Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and a projection for Sunday. The information is based on a poll of 4,985 consumers.
Americans, as might be expected, have become cheapskates.
The information will fuel the argument that holiday spending will be relatively flat in 2009 compared to the same period last year. That is essentially bad news. The 2008 shopping period was a disaster which caused the shuttering of thousands of stores and layoffs of tens of thousands of workers. Poor sales figures also caused many retail chains which had weak balance sheets to restructure or, in the case of Circuit City and Linens ‘N’ Things, close. Some of the retailers improved their financial situations enough to carry them through the current year, but a hard holiday season may still ruin those with high debt levels and modest cash balances.
The consumer may withdraw further into his shell over the next several weeks. November unemployment numbers will be out this week. A jobless number which is worse than expected will be blasted in headlines across the media which is likely to unsettle shoppers who still have relatively stable employment.
The first weekend of the 2009 holiday spending season was hardly a disaster. That is a small victory, given the state of the economy and consumer sentiment, and may well be one that is short-lived.
Douglas A. McIntyre
Executive Producer: Philip MacDonald