Black Friday traffic, holiday sales to increase, experts say

Black Friday traffic should be heavier than ever this year, and holiday retail sales should be up slightly, according to the latest surveys. SNEWS dives in to compare, contrast and summarize what they all say to make your life easier.
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Black Friday traffic is expected to be especially heavy this year, kicking off a slightly stronger holiday shopping season, according to several retail experts and recent sales forecasts.

“It’ll be a madhouse, like nothing we’ve ever seen before,” C. Britt Beemer, founder of America’s Research Group, told MSNBC.com in a Nov. 16 report. Beemer said that 49 percent of American households are planning to shop on Black Friday, up from the typical 40 percent.

This holiday season, consumers are expected not only to swamp stores on Black Friday, but also to spend a bit more than last year, purchase more discretionary items, shop online more and use their debit cards rather than credit cards, according to the latest surveys in the last few weeks SNEWS reviewed.

Black Friday bigger than ever

As many as 138 million people are planning to shop during the Black Friday weekend (Nov. 26-28), according to a survey by the National Retail Federation (www.nrf.com). This is up from the 134 million who planned to shop last year. The NRF said in a Nov. 18 statement, “Approximately 60 million people say they will definitely hit the stores, while another 78 million are waiting to see if the bargains are worth braving the cold and the crowds.”

One reason for the increase in traffic is that retailers have been tempting consumers with Black Friday-type deals since October. “The rules for Black Friday have changed significantly,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said in a statement. “Instead of waiting until Thanksgiving Day to announce their promotions, many retailers are getting shoppers excited about Black Friday by offering sneak peeks of deals in advance, using social media to create buzz, or teasing upcoming deals on their websites.”

However, Bill Martin, founder of ShopperTrak, told MSNBC.com that early promotions this year haven’t paid off as expected because most consumers have chosen to wait until Black Friday to shop. Not only has Black Friday become a social event, but consumers also know that’s the day they’ll find the really spectacular deals.

“The social aspect of Black Friday and the fact that the real deals aren’t really going to go up until then is going to continue to put Black Friday as the top sales day of the year in 2010,” Martin said.

Consumers up their spending…a tad

The sales momentum from Black Friday should continue through the holidays, as consumers are expected to loosen their wallets a bit this year.

As SNEWS® reported in October, the NRF predicted that holiday spending this year would rise 2.3 percent compared to last year. (Click here to read the SNEWS story, “Holiday retail sales projected to rise about 2 percent.”) Also, according to the NRF, the percentage of people who said the economy would affect their spending decreased from 65.3 percent last year to 61.7 percent this year.

The number of consumers who plan to decrease overall spending has dropped nearly four percentage points to 30.8 percent this month, according to a November BIGresearch Executive Briefing (www.bigresearch.com).

“The holiday season is still looking upward compared to Nov-09 and Nov-08,” BIGresearch reported. You shouldn’t expect consumers to really splurge this year, though, as the Executive Briefing notes that a third of consumers (32.2 percent) have made paying down debt their priority.

Zoomerang, an online survey outfit, also predicted a stronger 2010 holiday season compared to 2009, according to its survey of 340 small- to mid-sized U.S. retailers. “Even though consumers share a lack of confidence in the economy, more than half of the nearly 2,200 consumers surveyed indicated they will increase or maintain holiday spending levels this year,” Zoomerang reported (www.zoomerang.com).

More discretionary spending

As consumers increase spending, they will also focus more on items that people want rather than just practical items people need.

“After Santa spent much of last holiday season doling out blue jeans and small appliances, Americans seem to imply that this year’s gifts will be a bit more…well, exciting,” the NRF reported in an October story concerning the top 10 holiday trends.

The NRF reported that gift cards and clothing would remain the most requested holiday items, but it said, “the number of people putting jewelry on their wish lists this year is up 13 percent from a year ago…And more people are also asking for personal care or beauty items.”

USA Today, citing results from a variety of holiday forecasts, reported on Nov. 5, “Several of the companies conducting surveys also see evidence that gift purchases will start to lean more toward discretionary than necessity.”

Matthew Shay, CEO of the NRF, told USA Today that retailers seem to have “a bit of breathing room” because shoppers are budgeting to buy discretionary gifts. But, he added, “Retailers won’t fully believe the economy has totally recovered until we start to see unemployment numbers stabilize and consumer confidence increase.”

Nielsen, a global information company, stated in a Sept. 28 report that it predicts “a strong season for technology products and gift cards, with some possible upside surprises in discretionary items such as apparel, toys, videogames, books and even vacations, especially among upper income households.”

Online sales should surge

While spending should increase this year, there might be less traffic in the aisles, as online sales are expected to rise as they did last year.

“Shoppers continue to shift a greater share of their holiday spending from stores to the Internet,” eMarketer principal analyst Jeffrey Grau told Adweek in a late October report. “They do so to avoid crowded malls, find bargains and locate unusual or popular items that are unavailable in stores.”

Citing numbers from eMarketer (www.emarketer.com), Adweek reported that holiday sales would push 2010 e-commerce sales to $162.4 billion, which is up 12.7 percent over 2009. Also, online holiday sales should represent about 23.7 percent of all online retail sales in 2010.

In its survey of consumers, Zoomerang found that only about 36 percent planned to do all their shopping at retail stores, while 64 percent said they would do some or all of their holiday shopping online.

Debit cards over credit cards

One significant result of the recession is that more consumers are staying within a budget and using credit cards less often in an effort to limit debt. As a result, more people will whip out their debit cards, rather than credit cards, to pay for gifts.

The NRF’s 2010 Holiday Consumer Intentions and Actions survey, conducted by BIGresearch, found that 43 percent of holiday shoppers would rely on debit cards as a primary form of payment this year, which is a 20-percent increase from 2005 numbers (34.3 percent). Also, according to the survey, only about 27 percent of shoppers will charge their gift purchases, which is the lowest this number has been since 2002. Also, 25.7 percent will use cash, which is up from 24.9 percent last year.

“Many families may choose to leave credit cards at home as they shop this year, making sure to only purchase what’s on their list and within their budget,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said in a statement. “A variety of promotions ranging from free shipping to one-day sales will make it easier for shoppers to afford the perfect gift for their loved ones this holiday season.”

--Marcus Woolf

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