The Good News in Thanksgiving Weekend Retail Sales

According the the National Retail Federation Thanksgiving weekend retail sales are up sharply relative to last year:

Washington, November 25, 2012 – The New England Patriots and the Washington Redskins weren’t the only winners this Thanksgiving Day as more than 35 million Americans visited retailers’ stores and websites Thursday – up from 29 million last year – scoring deals on everything from hot electronic items to cashmere sweaters and toys. According to a National Retail Federation survey conducted by BIGinsight over the weekend, traffic and spending grew over the entire weekend*. More people than ever before also shopped online and in stores on Black Friday, as 89 million shoppers braved the crowds, up from 86 million last year.

According to the survey, a record 247 million shoppers** visited stores and websites over Black Friday weekend, up from 226 million last year. Making sure to take advantage of retailers’ promotions to the full extent, the average holiday shopper spent $423 this weekend, up from $398 last year. Total spending reached an estimated $59.1 billion.

“From green beans to great deals, millions of Americans found time this Thanksgiving to make the most of retailers’ promotions and enjoy a special family holiday,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay. “To keep their customers excited about holiday shopping, retailers will continue to offer attractive promotions through December, and provide strong consumer value with low prices, enhanced mobile and online offerings, and unique product assortment.”

If that pattern holds good throughout the holiday season during which retailers expect to do 50% of their annual sales, it will be very good news for the economy. However, I think we should temper our reactions a bit until the end of the year for a couple of reasons. First, the percentage of total retail sales done during Thanksgiving weekend has increased enormously since 2006. It’s increased almost three whole percentage points to 11.1% of all holiday sales taking place during that single weekend.

Second, buyers are being attracted by deep discounts (or, at least, the perception of deep discounts). It’s possible that retailers may experience higher sales volume while making lower net revenue.

We won’t really know what happened until after the first of the year. If there’s a wave of bankruptcies among retailers, we’ll know that the increased Thanksgiving weekend sales weren’t nearly enough. Keep your fingers crossed.

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