Opening on Thanksgiving failed to produce strong sales for retailers nationwide and hurt Black Friday foot traffic instead, sales surveys indicate.
Numbers are in for the big holiday weekend, and they are down across the board: Spending fell 11 percent from last year to $50.9 billion, the number of shoppers in stores and online was down 5.2 percent to 133.7 million, while average spending per shopper fell 6.4 percent to $380.95, according to the National Retail Federation.
Even so, the group still expects the holiday season to end with the most sales since 2011, said Matthew Shay, president and CEO of the retail federation. Customers are more savvy and willing to wait for better deals, he said.
“A number of retailers reported excellent days online and in stores,” Shay said. “But, in spite of getting off the blocks well, I think all these executives realize the Thanksgiving and holiday weekend are marathons and not a sprint. Every day is Black Friday. Every minute is going to be Cyber Monday.”
The survey, which was conducted Friday and Saturday by Prosper Insights & Analytics, looked at the shopping habits of 4,631 consumers.
In Metro Detroit, many shoppers said stores’ early openings on Thanksgiving deflated the urgency of Black Friday.
“I don’t think they should have to (open) on Thanksgiving,” Amy Micheli of Shelby Township said while shopping with her husband, Jay, and son Mason, 15 months, at Great Lakes Crossing on Friday. “It’s pretty quiet now, and it just means that all these employees can’t have the time with their families.”
Canton Township resident Anne Russell and her family shopped Friday at the Somerset Collection in Troy. Although Black Friday shopping is a tradition for them, their enthusiasm doesn’t extend to Thanksgiving sales.
“I like the fact that (the mall) wasn’t open yesterday,” said Russell. “I felt like nothing was picked over, everything was fresh and nobody had to work yesterday.”
According to data from Chicago-based retail analytics firm ShopperTrak, the early opening merely hurt Black Friday sales, rather than enticing more shoppers to stores. Store traffic may have increased 27 percent nationally on Thanksgiving from last year, but it fell 5.6 percent on Friday. The firm estimated that two-day sales fell 0.5 percent to $12.29 billion.
The slow start raises concerns about retailers being able to hit sales targets following a sluggish season in 2013. The National Retail Federation had predicted a 4.1 percent sales gain for November and December.
Shay said the NRF won’t change its estimate.
“We still think the fundamentals are right,” he said. “We still think the macro conditions are positive.”
More online sales
Sales increasingly are occurring online: According to Adobe Systems Inc., online sales hit an all-time high of $3.73 billion on Thursday and Friday. The NRF estimated online sales contributed to 42 percent of all sales.
For the first time, online traffic from mobile devices outpaced traditional desktop computers on Thanksgiving, according to analysis from IBM. Smartphones and tablets accounted for 52 percent of all online traffic, contributing to a 14.3 percent increase in online sales on Thanksgiving over last year, IBM said.
Birmingham-based retail consultant Ed Nakfoor said the results indicate the traditional benchmarks retailers look at to measure holiday sales success are changing.
“What’s happening is we’re re-calibrating what the holiday shopping season means and when it begins and ends,” he said. “At some point we’ll start to see less of a dependency on that Black Friday benchmark.”
Some successes cited
He said savvier consumers combined with online sales, as well as earlier deals being offered from retailers, have led to a change in how sales are made.
One thing is certain, Nakfoor said: Despite this year’s mixed sales, stores will continue to eat into Thanksgiving by opening earlier and earlier.
“Not everybody celebrates the holiday the same way. Some people don’t have family in town and they are looking for something to do,” said Nakfoor. “If the stores see it being even remotely popular and profitable, they will continue with it.”
Some retailers have already begun touting their success.
Wal-Mart, which opened its doors at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving, said the move was a success. More than 22 million shoppers came to the store, and online sales were the second-highest on record, beat only by last year’s Cyber Monday, Laura Phillips, senior vice president of merchandising, said Friday.
Target said its online sales on Thanksgiving increased more than 40 percent over last year, making it the retailer’s biggest online sales day ever. The most growth in traffic and sales came from mobile devices.
More online deals are on the way with today’s Cyber Monday, which the retail federation expects will attract 126 million shoppers.
Jay Henderson, director of IBM Smarter Commerce, says Cyber Monday will still be the biggest online shopping day of the year.
“Retailers are just trying to make it easy for consumers to buy in whatever way seems convenient,” said Henderson. “Clearly the main reason for Cyber Monday has faded away, but retailers are good about rewarding and ‘incenting’ consumers to shop.”
PayPal, which handles the majority of online transactions, said online sales have seen a significant uptick since Sept. 30. This indicates the holiday shopping season begins then, even if most brick-and-mortar retailers aren’t even offering holiday sales at that time, said Pablo Rodriguez, PayPal’s head of Global Consumer Initiatives.
Staff Writer Holly Fournier contributed.