With Thanksgiving a day behind , and Black Friday is today, the holidays have already become a source of anxiety for retailers. Industry experts believe that Black Friday has lost some of its bite for bricks and mortar retailers, as people move only before the upcoming Cyber Monday. It may be a good holiday for consumers. For retailers, it is a mixed picture.
Discounts on retailer merchandise began weeks ago.. Walmart started to offer discounts on Apple’s iPhone and Watch in the early part of the month, as an example.. Several retailers have cut TV prices by more than 20%. Even mattress prices have been slashed at several outlets. While the discounts may draw shoppers, they also compress the margins of some of America’s largest retailers, another challenge for the industry.
Several retailers posted awful results earlier in November and gave grime forecasts. The Home Depot, Inc. (NYSE: HD) was among them. So were Kohl’s Corporation (NYSE KSS), and Macy’s Inc. (NYSE: M). While these retailers will suffer financial setbacks, none may be hurt as badly as Sears and Kmart. J.C. Penney, which announced its same-store sales may be down as much as 8% for the year. The companies are fundamentally in a flat spin.
On the other hand, if the retail industry needed a signal that the holiday season will be robust, it had Walmart Inc.’s (NYSE: WMT) earnings. Two-year comparable store sales rose 6.6%. E-commerce sales were up 41% from the same quarter a year ago. Overall global revenue was up 3.3% to $128 billion. Forecast results for the holiday quarter were strong. Target Corporation (NYSE: TGT), the second largest big box retailer also released strong numbers
One positive sign is that, with 25 shopping days until Christmas, large retailers have added hundreds of thousands of temporary workers. Also, industry experts have forecast the best holiday sales since the Great Recession, and China trade tensions have not blunted consumer confidence. Among the predictions, the National Retail Federations believes this may be the best holiday season in years.
Results for retailers that started to offer huge discounts on items before the Thanksgiving weekend, are taking calculated risks. Some experts who follow the holiday economy are worried about these discounts. However, the price cuts are traditional and usually mean a retailer has stocked up on items for which it paid unusually low prices, or it wants to offer loss leaders to bring in shoppers who will buy other, more profitable items–hopefully.
Not to be bested by its brick-and-mortar rivals, Amazon.com Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN) has released a huge number of discounted items. For the time being, its focus is primarily on toys, clothing and consumer electronics. Amazon may dig itself a new earnings hole because of its aggressive free shipping. Last quarter, its new and particularly aggressive shipping deals hurt its numbers. Free shipping deals as a competitive advantage grow by the year, as companies like Walmart offer deals that match Amazon’s. Observers believe that free shipping is another way to pound rivals into the ground, even if short-term financial results are hurt. Amazon can easily afford what is often a money-losing practice.
Another trend that may bode well for the season is that retailers and air freight companies like FedEx and UPS have hired armies of temporary workers. This lends at least a temporary bump to the economy and is a sign of optimism. These hundreds of thousands of jobs lift national employment numbers. These people also will have more money to do shopping of their own.
Economists have said that consumers should have started to feel the effects of tariffs by now. In pockets, like the farming sector, they have. However, most measures of consumer confidence continue to be strong. That is probably due to unemployment that is at a five-decade low and to unusually low interest rates, which can help consumers borrow for the purchase of holiday gifts.
The strongest holiday season forecasts have been dominated by tailwinds and forecasts of tailwinds ahead. With only 25 shopping days until Christmas, many shoppers and some retailers seem to be in very good shape.
For shoppers this weekend, these are the store hours for every major retailer.