Thanksgiving shopping took a noticeable bite out of Black Friday’s start to the holiday season, as the latest survey found retail sales in stores fell slightly from last year.
Saturday’s report from retail technology company ShopperTrak finds consumers spent $11.2 billion at stores across the U.S. That is down 1.8 percent from last year’s total.
This year’s Friday results appear to have been tempered by hundreds of thousands of shoppers hitting sales Thursday evening while still full of Thanksgiving dinner. Retailers including Sears, Target and Wal-Mart got their deals rolling as early as 8 p.m. Thursday.
Online shopping also might have cut into the take at brick-and-mortar stores: IBM said online sales rose 17.4 percent on Thanksgiving and 20.7 percent on Black Friday, compared with 2011.
Yet ShopperTrak said retail foot traffic increased 3.5 percent, to more than 307.67 million store visits, indicating at least some shoppers were browsing but not spending freely.
“Black Friday continues to be an important day in retail,” ShopperTrak founder Bill Martin said. “This year, though, more retailers than last year began their doorbuster deals on Thursday, Thanksgiving itself. So while foot traffic did increase on Friday, those Thursday deals attracted some of the spending that’s usually meant for Friday.”
The company estimated that shopper foot traffic rose the most in the Midwest, up 12.9 percent compared with last year. Traffic rose the least, 7.6 percent, in the Northeast, parts of which are still recovering from Superstorm Sandy.
ShopperTrak, which counts foot traffic and its own proprietary sales numbers from 25,000 retail outlets across the U.S., had forecast Black Friday sales would grow 3.8 percent this year, to $11.4 billion.
While consumer confidence has been improving, many people are still worried about the slow economic recovery, high unemployment and whether a gridlocked Congress can avert tax increases and government spending cuts – the so-called fiscal cliff – set to occur automatically in January.
And some would-be shoppers said they weren’t impressed with the discounts, or that there wasn’t enough inventory of the big door-busters.
Online retailers worked as hard as brick-and-mortar stores to draw customers, sending each of their subscribers an average of 5.9 promotional e-mails during the 7 days through Black Friday. That’s an all-time high, according to marketing software company Responsys.
IBM, which tracks more than 1 million transactions at 500 online retailers each day, said its data showed 24 percent of online shoppers used a mobile device to check out a retailer’s site and about 16 percent of online purchases were made on a mobile device. But while total online spending rose sharply, the value of the average online order dipped about 5 percent to $181.22.
For the entire holiday sales season of November and December, ShopperTrak has predicted sales should rise 3.3 percent over last year.
Those two months are crucial for retailers and can account for up to 40 percent of stores’ annual revenue.