New York — The holiday selling season got off to a rousing start this past weekend as deeply discounted CE products helped drive record traffic and sales in the three days following Thanksgiving. But the bulk of retailers’ business came after Black Friday, casting doubt on the usefulness of profit-draining door buster specials.
According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), total weekend spending hit $27.8 billion — a stunning 22 percent increase over the same period last year, with CE leading the gain. Indeed, some 37 percent of shoppers surveyed by NRF and BIGresearch purchased consumer electronics over the weekend, up 18 percent from last year.
The data was echoed by Visa USA, which reported that retail spending on Visa-branded credit and debit cards increased 11.4 percent year-over-year to $3.7 billion on Friday and Saturday. The greatest increase in card charges — 20.6 percent — was in the “personal entertainment” category, which includes electronics, computers, pre-recorded music and video, and bookstores, Visa said.
But despite aggressive, below-cost discounts on Black Friday morning, which included $380 notebooks and $1,500 42W-inch HD plasma TVs (both at Best Buy), sales were relatively tepid the day after Thanksgiving. The NRF said traffic was up 8 percent on Friday, compared to 13.3 percent on Saturday, while ShopperTrak, the Chicago-based retail sales analysts, said Black Friday volume was actually flat year-over-year, down almost 1 percent on sales of $8 billion.
Michael Niemira, chief economist and research director for the International Council of Shopping Centers, attributed sluggish Black Friday sales to a surfeit of heavy discounts by off-mall retailers, the longer selling season, and tough year-over-year comparisons. “With the extra Saturday this season, added to the continued influence of high energy prices, the consumer may just be waiting until later to begin their holiday spending,” he said.
Retailers may get an added sales boost today when shoppers supposedly turn to the Internet for holiday bargains. According to Shop.org, a division of the NRF, 60 million consumers are expected to participate in “Cyber Monday,” the “official kickoff” for online holiday shopping and possibly one of the biggest online shopping days of the year.
“Online retailers will be ready for the surge in traffic and will be offering sensational promotions on Cyber Monday,” said Scott Silverman, executive director of Shop.org. “Though millions of consumers spent the weekend in stores, they will be rounding out their shopping by heading online to look for gift ideas, compare prices, and buy.”