The early holiday sales results are in, and retailers - of both the brick & mortar and online kind - say it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas.
After digesting their take from the long Thanksgiving weekend, merchants who carry CE products reported sharp sales spikes that met or exceeded their expectations. And while it's hazardous to extrapolate an entire selling season from a few days of retail activity - Black Friday or not - stores and analysts would be surprised if the glad tidings didn't continue through December.
At RadioShack, store traffic over the holiday weekend was "extremely robust," the retailer reported, with "exceptionally strong" increases in foot traffic on the Friday following Thanksgiving.
But shoppers did more than just browse, and demand for communications, personal electronics, computers and audio/video products exceeded plan, according to corporate parent Tandy.
"The traditional start to the holiday selling season was much stronger this year for RadioShack than in years past," reported chairman Len Roberts. "Our new approach of marketing a broader assortment of products, and the idea of Radio-Shack as a place for gifts, appears to be showing positive results."
Similarly, Sears enjoyed some of the highest levels of store traffic in years, the company said, buoyed in large part by early-morning specials in electronics, fine jewelry and tools. "We had a couple of hundred people at the doors for the opening, and the immediate rush was for big-ticket items," including TVs and VCRs, reported Tampa, Fla., store manager Dave Hanley.
In Yonkers, N.Y., Sears store manager Claire Bruno said the electronics and hardware departments were "just packed," and the merchandise was "flying out the doors." In Dallas, top CE sellers included TVs, camcorders and DVD players, reported store manager Sandy Harten, who noted that the bigger-ticket items were "moving very well."
Indeed, electronics' prominent place on holiday shopping lists pushed stock prices of CE retailers sharply higher on the Monday following Thanksgiving. Best Buy shares led the pack with a 71/4-point gain to 651/8, while Tandy advanced 27/8 to 76, and Circuit City rose 17/8 to 521/8.
The outcome was equally rosy on the cyber side, where Amazon's sales were 250% ahead of last year for the 12 hours from midnight to noon on Friday, while orders placed through Yahoo's shopping portal were up 500% for all of Friday from the year prior.
Similarly, AOL reported a 300% increase in sales for all of Thanksgiving week compared to the year-ago period, reflecting purchases by some 4 million members, including 600,000 first-time e-shoppers.
"Shoppers are crowding online sites earlier this year against the fear that selection might not hold through the upcoming weeks," said Allen Weiner, VP of analytical services at NetRatings, which together with Nielsen Media Research gauges the level of e-commerce traffic.
Among the more popular CE purchases: digital cameras and MP3 music players, NetRatings reported.
CE e-tailers confirmed the early-bird phenomenon. "Thanksgiving week was bigger for us than the entire first quarter," observed Keith Clougherty, chairman and founder of Roxy.com. "We've already met our sales goals for 1999. Now we just want to maximize the last six weeks of the year."
Likewise, Henry Chiarelli, executive VP/general manager of Radioshack-.com, remarked that business on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving was the briskest yet for the seven-month-old e-commerce division.