Retailers Find Shoppers Are Thrifty During Black Friday

For some U.S. consumers this year, Thanksgiving dinner had barely finished before they were out the door to do some shopping!

Due to a shift in the calendar, there are fewer shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year. According to ShopperTrak, this year has 26 shopping days between Black Friday and Christmas Eve versus 2012's 32 shopping days. As a result, retailers like Wal-Mart  (NYSE: WMT  ) and Best Buy  (NYSE: BBY  ) opened their doors on Thanksgiving Day and sales began before Black Friday. Analysis by the National Retail Federation, or NRF, found that during the four-day weekend the number of shoppers rose but the average spend per consumer was lower -- $407.02 spent per shopper from Thursday through Sunday – versus last year's $423.55. 

The NRF survey found that on Thanksgiving day consumer traffic grew 27% as approximately 45 million shoppers went searching for "turkey day" sales this year, compared to 35 million last year. Thanksgiving Day sales totaled $2.583 billion and made up 11.6% of the weekend's sales, versus 3.6% last year. The majority of the dollars were spent on Black Friday, which had $9.77 billion in sales. In comparison, the combined sales for Saturday and Sunday were $9.88 billion. The sales total for the four-day weekend was $22.23 billion. 

Wal-Mart's big seller -- a $0.29 washcloth
Wal-Mart shoppers were big on towels on Black Friday and bought 2.8 million of them, more than double the number of towels bought last year. Towel sales outpaced other big sellers like bikes (300,000), tablets (1.4 million), and televisions (2 million). 

The Black Friday event was hailed as a success, and the store claims to have delivered "the biggest shopping day of the season" according to reports on Yahoo!. More than 22 million customers shopped at Wal-Mart on Black Friday. The retailer's website registered almost 400 million page views on Thanksgiving Day. There were some technical difficulties with the site that prevented some consumers from completing purchases, but overall online sales went smoothly.

Best Buy benefits from a 6 pm opening on Turkey Day
Best Buy reported strong results during the Black Friday weekend, and it appears to have picked up market share. Placed, a Seattle-based analytics firm, told the Star Tribune that the electronics retailer gained the ninth-largest increase in market share compared to the prior week. Among major retailers, Best Buy had the third-highest number of Black Friday customers, behind Wal-Mart and Target.

Some analysts were concerned about the impact that deep discounting of television and computer merchandise would have on Best Buy's profit. However, the company reported strong sales of higher-margin items like accessories and computer repair services such as Geek Squad. The Tribune also quoted from a Goldman Sachs report which noted that Best Buy captured sales from a broad mix of categories. The variety of merchandise being sold is a sign that the in-store experience for consumers has improved. 

Nordstrom celebrates Thanksgiving by remaining closed
While other retailers opened their doors on Thanksgiving Day, high-end retailer Nordstrom (NYSE: JWN  ) remained closed. Black Friday is not as important for Nordstrom as it is for other stores. The highlight of the sales year at the luxury retailer actually comes in July in the form of its anniversary sale. During the second quarter, soft revenues were reported from the anniversary sale, indicating a possible slowdown in the luxury sector. 

Despite Nordstrom's stores closing on Thanksgiving Day, its website – shop.nordstrom.com – remained open. As more holiday spending takes place online, Nordstrom is one of several retailers that engages with customers through mobile optimized email campaigns and a mobile website. According to LightingBuy, a mobile checkout platform, this should help drive impulse purchases,  which are a key component of the holiday shopping season.

My Foolish conclusion
Despite the drop in average spending over the Black Friday weekend, the NRF has estimated an increase in total holiday spending of about 3.9%, or $602 billion. As Black Friday results show, the retailers that offer the best value to consumers are expected to have a good holiday season, as long as aggressive discounting does not eat away their profits.

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