Black Friday: What just happened?

I posted the following on RetailWire on the Monday after Thanksgiving, and I probably did not gauge accurately what really happened after Thanksgiving. In hindsight (based on stores’ reported November comps), the NRF probably got it right and clearly there was more activity in apparel than expected. Here, with a side of crow, are my comments:

The metrics for Black Friday are notoriously difficult to gauge, with the NRF report of a 6% sales increase over the weekend especially hard to swallow. (Retailers are optimists by nature, and the NRF is no exception.) The continued growth of e-commerce sales and the earlier openings (including Thursday) make the raw numbers reported in brick & mortar stores on Friday hard to use as a benchmark for the season. And anecdotal evidence (like crowded parking lots and customers with shopping bags) is no substitute for raw data. Add in the fact that Black Friday is traditionally dominated by margin-busting categories like electronics, toys and small electrics.

Retailers need to provide flavor for weekend sales today or (more importantly) they need to report November comp sales before anybody can draw conclusions about the nature of the holiday season. I still expect to see the sort of modest increases for the holiday season that happened during Back to School — there is nothing in the macroeconomic picture that would turn this season into a barn-burner.

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