Black Friday Shopping Forecast: Partly Gloomy

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Black Friday is nearly here and with it comes an estimate of what retailers can expect in the way of traffic and sales. Consulting firm Deloitte LP has conducted an online survey of 1,000 consumers and the firm’s findings are not very festive.

Only 13% of those surveyed said that they plan to hit the stores on Thanksgiving Day, down from 23% a year ago. Stores that are opening for the first time or opening earlier on Thanksgiving Day this year, including Macy’s Inc. (NYSE: M), Best Buy Co. Inc. (NYSE: BBY), and J.C. Penney Co. Inc. (NYSE: JCP) may get a smaller sales bump than they were hoping for if Deloitte’s survey is accurate.

Even Black Friday shopper numbers are declining according to Deloitte, from 63% last year to 53% this year. Those who are planning to shop this holiday weekend expect to spend an average of $286. Some 80% say their spending plans were not affected by the government shutdown in early October.

The National Retail Federation’s (NRF) predictions are a bit rosier. The organization reported that 23.5% of shoppers it surveyed expect to go shopping on Thanksgiving Day. Nearly 70% of the Thanksgiving Day shoppers also shopped online or in stores last year according to the NRF. Black Friday will attract 69.1 million shoppers, or 43.8% of those surveyed.

According to Deloitte’s survey, online and in-store shoppers are equally split, with 48% planning to shop in either location. Some 19% of shoppers will shop online on Thanksgiving Day, about a third more than plan to visit stores.

Retailers are really going to have to work to make sales though. Consumers are looking for steep discounts, with more than half saying they plan to spend as much as two hours researching Black Friday deals.

One more hopeful signal for retailers is that another survey, this one by Discover Financial Services (NYSE: DFS), indicates that U.S. shoppers plan to spend an average of $1,012 this holiday season, a 20% jump over 2012 holiday shopping, with 19% planning on spending between $1,000 and $5,000.

Even though the NRF estimates for Thanksgiving Day shoppers is higher than Deloitte’s, the two surveys both show Black Friday itself will attract about 50% of shoppers and that is not as many as last year. Add to that the steep discounts consumers will be looking for and the shorter holiday shopping period, and the NRF’s forecast for a 3.9% boost in sales compared with 2012 may be unduly sunny.