Black Friday News & Notes

So it looks like the heavy promotions did their job--or did they?

The number of American adults that said they shopped this weekend was up 4.8 percent over a year ago, according to an NRF/BIGresearch survey of 2,395 shoppers, however each consumer said they spent less--an average of of $347.44, down 3.5 percent from $360.15 last year. (For the full survey, you can download the PDF here.)

But if you look the PDF, the numbers get confusing. In the first question, respondents were asked if they shopped at all Thursday, Friday, Saturday or Sunday. 44.1 percent answered "Yes" and 55.9 percent answered "No." (Last year the figures were 42.9 percent "Yes" and 57.1 percent "No," respectively.) BIGResearch extrapolates that out to the U.S. population of adults 18 and older (225.6 million) and the survey puts the figure of adult shoppers at 99.5 million, up 4.1 percent from the 95.6 million last year. The 147 million figure and 4.8 percent gain being widely cited comes from the second question where the survey asks about Thursday, Friday Saturday and Sunday separately. There, NRF and BIGResearch added the "Yeses" from each question, extrapolated the percentages to the U.S. population and added them together. So if someone said, for example, that they'd shop Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday they'd get counted four times. It seems to me the more accurate way to say what happened is that an estimated 99.5 million adult Americans shopped with some shopping multiple days accounting for 147.3 million trips. But, this is all based on sampling. So we don't really know what the real figure is.

The survey also asked consumers how much of that spending was online. The figure this year was $93.12 a person, up from $82.84 last year. Overall, online accounted for 26.8 percent of spending up from 23 percent last year. But if the total number went down and online went up, that means the spending in stores must have really fallen. If you do the math, you find that average shoppers said they spent $254.32 apiece at stores this year, down from $277.31 last year--an 8.3 percent drop.

Pulling out the calculator again, if 99.5 million adults 18 or over shopped and you multiply the amount who shopped by how much they say they spent--the number comes out to $34.58 billion this year compared with $34.42 billion last year. That amounts to just a 0.4 percent increase. Further, if you multiply the number that shopped by what they said they spent in stores, it works out to $25.31 billion this year--a 4.5 percent decrease from $25.51 billion last year.

Can that be right?

NRF says that Black Friday weekend typically accounts for 8 to 10 percent of the season's sales. This year, NRF is projecting $474.5 billion in retail sales. The $34.6 billion figure, then, looks a little low. It only works out to be 7.3 percent of the projected total. Further, it's less than another figure getting tossed around--the $42 billion in sales this weekend estimated by SpendingPulse, the retail data service of MasterCard Inc. And as yet another counterpoint, you can look at traffic analytics firm ShopperTrak, which says consumers spent $10.3 billion on Black Friday, an 8.3 percent jump over a year ago at the more than 50,000 outlets it tracks directly. It puts the figure at $16.4 billion for Friday and Saturday combined, a 7.2 percent jump over 2006. Lastly, the online part of NRF's figures are problematic. If you perform the same math--multiplying the number of shoppers by what they say they spent online--the figure comes out to $9.2 billion. That is way, way too high. Online retail spending was up 29 percent to $272 million on Thanksgiving and up 22 percent on Friday to $531 million. Today is CyberMonday, the biggest online shopping day of the year, and the estimates are for $700 million in sales and the projection for the entire season is $33 billion. So there's no way spending online was that high this weekend.

What does that all mean? In the end, I'm not sure if we really know what happened this weekend and we won't know until the retailers themselves report their numbers. ShopperTrak's numbers, at least, are based on real sales activity and are promising, but they are only measuring a fraction of overall activity. What else is clear is that much of the activity was driven to a great deal by promotions and deep discounts. Now that the Black Friday sales are over, what will sales activity really look like?

For its part, ICSC doesn't report its first numbers until tomorrow, but is projecting a 2.5 percent increase in same-store sales for the season.


Aside from the number crunching, the weekend was not without some interesting adventures and there are definitely anecdotes of malls packed to the gills.

In Boise, Idaho, the crush of shoppers was so dense at General Growth Property's Boise Towne Square Mall that it broke the mall's doors as an estimated 10,000 people streamed into the property at 1 AM Friday morning.

In the video, you can see people leaving a stream of trash--blankets, coffee cups, etc.--as they race to get away from the mall's doors. At the 5:45 mark in the video, there's another crazy scene showing dozens and dozens of people trying to get some sort of giveaway at the mall's customer service center. (The mall only had 500 gift bags to give away.) In year's past the property opened at 4 A.M. This year, mall management decided to shift the opening three hours earlier. They may want to re-think that next year.

It seems part of the problem was that people misunderstood what was in the gift bags.

Ginger Kreitter was also waiting outside with the mob after reading this table flyer. It reads, "500 gift bags will be given out at customer service at 1:00 a.m., stuffed with a Nintendo Wii, $500 or $250 gift card, plus more cash and prizes."

She thought she'd walk away with a prize of at least $250. "For that we thought it was worth our while. But that's not what happened." Krietter walked away with a smaller $5 gift card. One mall manager says they never promised to give away that many big prizes. Marketing manager Darcy Shippey says, "I don't know how they misread that. It's unfortunate. Everybody can't win. I would love to give everybody a prize that was out there last night. But I can't do that." Shippey says the mall will probably not give out gift bags again. "In the future, we would probably never do the bags again, if it's going to cause this kind of chaos for people because they didn't win."

A midnight opening at the Wrentham Village Premium Outlets outside Boston created traffic jams for miles.

Elsewhere, Palisades Center in West Nyack, N.Y. had to be shut down briefly after smoke from a small fire outside the mall entered the property and forced managers to evacuate. Nearly 80 firefighters combed through the mall searching for the fire, eventually finding that a carelessly tossed cigarette started the blaze in a pile of boxes outside the property's Circuit City.

Another crazy scene played out in Cleveland where animal rights protesters picketed outside two different properties.

In Chicago, two Chicago Tribune reporters kept a running blog of Black Friday. There's a page with a video as well.

And, lastly, for its part, Apple launched a revamp of its 201 stores. Its removed all cash registers and switched to a "concierge" service model.

Clipboard-carrying concierges greet customers at the door to direct them to the right section of the store or to the personal shopper or trainer with whom they had made an appointment. Several others mill the floor in case someone has a question or is ready to buy an iPod, an iPhone or a Macintosh computer.

With cash registers removed, a common question nowadays is, "Where do I pay?" The store employee would instantly reply, "Right here," and whip out a portable scanner from a hip holster. Receipts are e-mailed on the spot or, if the customer prefers, a paper version emerges from printers hidden underneath display tables.

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