The Thanksgiving weekend started with a bang, and ended with a whimper. Black Friday was hot, with a 10.8 percent increase in sales to about $8 billion, according to the National Retail Federation. But Saturday was not, with $5 billion in sales, a 6.5 percent drop from last year, according to ShopperTrak.
What's more, business varied from chain-to-chain, with luxury stores such as Neiman Marcus Group Inc. the big winners and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. the clear loser. Wal-Mart dropped its estimates for November's sales from a 2-to-4-percent increase to an increase of just 0.7 percent on disappointing weekend sales. For Wal-Mart, it was hard to beat last year's single-day record of $1.52 billion in sales for the Friday after Thanksgiving. Wal-Mart, as well as most other major retailers, will release November sales comps on Thursday.
When the weaker Saturday numbers and Wal-Mart drop were factored in, ShopperTrak said, sales for the three-day holiday weekend increased 2.9 percent.
What does that mean for the upcoming holiday season? For one thing, Wal-Mart says it will cut prices through Christmas after taking what it called "a more balanced approach" to discounting Friday. Luxury goods will likely continue to sell well, with discount stores suffering as low-income shoppers are squeezed by higher gas and oil-heating prices. If the weekend is any indication, Sears, Roebuck & Co. and JCPenney Co., should be strong.
But if recent trends are an indicator, the Thanksgiving weekend may not be a predictor of Christmas shopping. The last 10 days before Christmas are now considered more critical. "The industry still has reason to remain cautiously optimistic," says Michael Niemira, chief economist and director of research for the International Council of Shopping Centers.
Shoppers showed a wide interest in purchases, with almost 50 percent purchasing clothing and accessories and 45.5 percent of shopper bought books, CDs, DVDs and videos. The big winner in fashion this year was clearance merchandise for fall, says Scott Krugman, an NRF spokesman. Electronics were also popular. Nearly one-third of consumers purchased electronics, according to NRF data.
When all the hoopla ended, NRF said it would hold firm its estimate of a 4.5 percent gain the November/December period form last year, predicting $220 billion in holiday sales this year.