The first spending decline on a Black Friday weekend since 2009 reinforced projections for a lackluster holiday, increasing chances retailers will extend the deep discounts already hurting their profit margins.
Purchases at stores and websites fell 2.9 percent to $57.4 billion during the four days beginning with the Nov. 28 Thanksgiving holiday, according to a survey commissioned by the National Retail Federation. While 141 million people shopped, about 2 million more than last year, the average consumer’s spending dropped 3.9 percent to $407.02, the survey showed.
The survey results, if borne out at cash registers in American malls and on website checkout screens, herald retailers’ likely return to Black Friday-type discounts this week and suggest added stress for several chains. Walmart and Target already cut profit forecasts after tepid sales gains in back-to-school shopping. While the NRF reiterated its forecast Sunday that total sales in November and December would increase 3.9 percent, the trade group has said it would revise the forecast if necessary later this month.
“Retailers didn’t get what they wanted from Black Friday, and they will need to make it up in the next three weeks,” said Poonam Goyal, an analyst for Bloomberg Industries, in an interview. “There will be some panic sales.”
Sales in November and December account for 20 to 40 percent of U.S. retailers’ annual revenue and 20 percent of profit, according to the Washington-based NRF.
Shoppers have the perception that deals are always available, Goyal said. That thinking has made the doorbuster bargains associated with Black Friday less effective at getting people to buy beyond one heavily discounted item.
This kind of so-called mission shopping, where a consumer buys one bargain-priced item and then leaves, will hurt profit margins, Goyal said. It may also explain why the number of shoppers increased and their spending fell, she said.
“That’s really bad for retailers,” Goyal said. Historically, Black Friday deals used to be the best of the year. Now consumers “are buying those and walking out the door.”
With more stores opening on Thanksgiving, sales were pulled forward from Friday, Bill Martin, ShopperTrak’s founder, said in a telephone interview. Sales on Friday fell 13.2 percent from last year, with foot traffic down 11.4 percent. Foot traffic for the combined Thanksgiving-Black Friday period rose 2.8 percent to more than 1.07 billion store visits, ShopperTrak said.
“The consumers really responded to Thursday’s openings – actually, more than anybody anticipated,” Martin said.
The continued rise of e-commerce also may have kept some shoppers at home. Total e-commerce sales reached $20.6 billion in the first 29 days of this holiday season, ComScore Inc. said Sunday. That’s about 3.1 percent more than the period from Nov. 1 to Black Friday last year, the research firm’s data showed. The 2013 numbers include a few more shopping days because Thanksgiving fell on a later date this year.
“December will be a hugely promotional month to get those remaining shopping dollars out there,” said Pam Goodfellow, a director at Prosper Insights & Analytics, the research firm that did the survey for the NRF. “Retailers will be very aggressive.”