Americans shopped with a vengeance this Black Friday weekend, with an estimated 195 million piling into stores around the country -- a healthy increase from the 172 million who shopped last year. Trouble is, they didn't buy very much.
A survey released Sunday by the National Retail Federation/ BIGResearch says that despite the increase in traffic, average spending fell to $343.31 per person from $372.57 a year ago. Total spending reached an estimated $41.2 billion, virtually unchanged from the $41 billion spent during last year's holiday weekend. And on Friday itself, consumers scooped up an estimated $10.66 billion worth of goods, reports the Chicago-based ShopperTrak -- an increase of just 0.5% from $10.61 billion last year.
"It just wasn't the start to the holiday season that we were hoping for, and quite frankly, we were downright disappointed, especially given the recent buzz that shoppers might loosen purse strings for holiday gifting," write Retail Eye partners Lisa Walters and Sapna Shah in its field report. While the duo -- both principals at the New York-based consulting company -- observed steady traffic and buying, "it's in no way a kickoff to get excited about and doesn't give us the warm fuzzies for how December is going to play out."
While crowds were robust at store openings very early in the morning, they died down a bit later, following door-buster deal sellouts, and spending remained reined in and very targeted at heavily discounted and sale items."
The NRF survey tells the same story. "Shoppers proved this weekend that they were willing to open their wallets for a bargain, heading out to take advantage of great deals on less expensive items like toys, small appliances and winter clothes," the NRF, a Washington, D.C.-based trade association, says in its release. "While retailers are encouraged by the number of Americans who shopped over Black Friday weekend, they know they have their work cut out for them to keep people coming back through Christmas."
ShopperTrak's analysis of the numbers was somewhat more upbeat, pointing out while 2008's Black Friday spending was exceptionally good, given the economy, spending over the entire holiday period was dismal. "As highlighted in 2008, Friday's relatively strong performance isn't always a bellwether for the entire season," it says in its analysis. "We've seen a gradual retail sales increase over the last two weeks and with Black Friday's performance it looks like November will be a positive month for retailers compared to last year, which is an encouraging sign."
One surprise was that department stores fared better than expected, with 49.4% of holiday shoppers visiting at least one -- a 12.9%. Just 43.2% shopped at discount stores.
But perhaps the biggest shopping news this weekend wasn't happening at the mall, but at home. ComScore says online spending on Black Friday hit $595 million, an 11% jump over last year and "represents the second-heaviest online spending day of the season-to-date and a double-digit increase from last year," it says. (And Coremetrics, a San Mateo, Calif.-based consultant, estimates online spending jumped much higher, up 35%.)
And retailers are expecting a flood of orders this CyberMonday. The NRF -- in a just released-survey from its shop.org division -- is reporting that an estimated 96.5 million Americans will shop online today, up from 85 million last year. While some 13 million will shop from work, most -- 88.2 million -- plan to shop from home computers. (At some point, however, an estimated 69 million Americans say they will do some cyber shopping from the office.) About 3.8% say they plan to shop from their mobile phones.
Of course, whether that online spending will continue this peppy pace is anyone's guess. "While this acceleration in spending suggests the online holiday season may be shaping up slightly more optimistically than anticipated," comScore says in its report, "it may also reflect the heavy discounting and creative promotions being put forth by retailers that now encompass the use of social networks such as Facebook and Twitter."