In the wake of the oodles of written stories and scores of local television reporters sent out to the local shopping mall, the question remains: What can investors discern, if anything, from the recent kickoff to Christmas shopping.
A few things that seem certain:
1. The day after Thanksgiving doesn’t matter as much anymore. Similar to the Christmas decorations you now see going up immediately after Halloween fare is taken down, the early push by businesses to extract shopping dollars means the very idea of a huge Black Friday has less relevance. As the New York Times reported on Sunday, retail sales last Friday were below that of a year earlier – but not because the consumer is necessarily hurting. Rather, it seems retailers are now prone to jumping the gun a day early by beginning their blockbuster a day early, on Thanksgiving. According to the Times, research firm ShopperTrak said retail sales fell 1.8% from a year ago. Meanwhile, the National Retail Federation reported an almost 21% increase in the number of people making visits to stores or Web sites in the US on Thanksgiving Day. In addition, about 28% of people saying they were shopping over the weekend said they started at midnight or earlier on Thanksgiving. In 2009, by comparison, that number was 3%.
2. Less shopping is happening in person – and not just for Christmas. Online buying continues to be the overall trend. According to IBM, which tracks e-commerce transactions from 500 retailers, online sales jumped 17.4% on Thanksgiving and 20.7% on Black Friday. In addition, consumers who were shopping last weekend said they spent about 40% of their money online. Meanwhile, as the Times points out, the ShopperTrak data that showed visits were up but sales were down suggests more online buying is happening after consumers “showroom” the targeted purchases by inspecting them in person first. And this is no holiday phenomenon. As Daniel Gross put it at The Daily Beast, every day is increasingly becoming Cyber Monday. According to the Census Bureau, sales at nonstore retailers in the first 10 months of 2012 were up 11.8% from a year earlier. Meanwhile, overall sales were up just 5.5%. This apparent trend is at the heart of the idea behind the Couch Commerce motif, which is up 6.2% in the past month
3. So much for social media referrals driving commerce. Over the weekend, Henry Blodget reminded us about the once-ballyhooed promise that Facebook and Twitter in their respective early stages that social media would be a key part of consumer behavior. The most powerful marketing in the world is word of mouth, so the thinking went, and with people living their lives on Facebook, that’s where they’d be eventually doing their shopping. So far? Not so much. As IBM’s report found, only 0.68% of Black Friday online sales came from Facebook referrals. That was down 1% from a year ago. Twitter? Not even really registering, unfortunately. IBM said commerce site traffic from Twitter accounted for exactly “0.00%” of Black Friday traffic, after accounting for 0.02% a year ago. Maybe the one guy was busy this year.