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Black Friday Is History

By Rich Duprey - Dec 2, 2013 at 10:13AM

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As retailers push Christmas sales earlier into November -- and October! -- the traditional start to the Christmas shopping season loses its significance

Like voters who consistently give Congress low approval ratings but continue to elect their representatives and senators back into office year after year, shoppers bemoan Christmas' creep into Thanksgiving and then turn around and go shopping anyway.

According to the folks at ShopperTrak, even though Black Friday sales plunged more than 13% this year compared to 2012, the amount consumers spent over the two-day Thanksgiving and Black Friday shopping period actually rose 2.3%, meaning we were actually out there spending like the dickens on the day that many were complaining was supposed to be reserved for spending with loved ones and remembering what we have to be thankful for.

Apparently, we're thankful that Sears Holdings (SHLDQ) opened its Kmart stores at 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving and Big Lots (BIG -2.62%) followed suit by opening at 7 a.m., or that because Wal-Mart (WMT 0.86%), Kohl's (KSS -19.64%), and a host of other mass retailers and department stores opened later in the day, we were invited to treat the holiday as a slugfest.

The National Retail Federation said fully one-third of the 140 million people expected to open their purse strings over the four-day shopping extravaganza that ran from Thursday to Sunday would do so on Thanksgiving Day itself. But since opening on the holiday merely pulls forward by one day sales that would have likely occurred anyway on Black Friday, retailers haven't really benefited themselves and risk diluting the importance of the sales they run then.

In-store Black Friday shopping is already losing out to online sales, and with today being Cyber Monday, we'll see the impact it has on the total bottom line for Christmas shopping as well as the importance consumers are placing on buying gifts over the Internet. Last year online sales crossed the $1 billion threshold for the first time, which was surpassed only by the $1.5 billion spent on the following Cyber Monday. This year TechCrunch says online sales on Black Friday surged 15% to $1.2 billion.

Indeed, they already surpassed $1 billion on Thanksgiving Day, a huge, 40% leap from last year, according to Adobe, which, according to USA Today, "analyzed 180 million visits to more than 1,000 U.S. retail websites." 

The media naturally played up the violence that occurred as shoppers scrambled to grab gifts that were hardly the bargain they were advertised as. Brawls broke out at Wal-Mart -- which seems to be de rigueur for the season now -- and cops shot a shoplifter at Kohl's. Thieves also shot a shopper carrying home a TV he'd just purchased at Target (TGT 0.81%). Is it any wonder more people choose to shop online than dealing with the mayhem?

Yet some apparently do shop in-store, and whether it's spending money on Thanksgiving Day or on Black Friday, people are spending more -- which should help alleviate some of the concern retailers have expressed. The NRF says this will be the 10th consecutive year that Black Friday is the biggest shopping day of the year, despite sales falling two years in a row now, but some 80% of shoppers plan on spending less overall this holiday. Still, Wal-Mart said it sold 2 million TVs on Black Friday, as well as 1.4 million tablets. 

Yet obviously as retailers extend discounts earlier and earlier into the month, the outsize role Black Friday has played will diminish over time. Wal-Mart started up the week before Black Friday, offering its biggest sales ahead of schedule in a bid to juice quarterly numbers, and Sears began touting its Christmas layaway program before school even started in September. 

Unlike the weather, which Mark Twain famously noted that everyone also complains about, consumers have the ability to do something about "holiday creep" -- but they first need to get out of the checkout line to do so.

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Stocks Mentioned

Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. Stock Quote
Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.
$122.63 (0.86%) $1.05
Target Corporation Stock Quote
Target Corporation
$142.38 (0.81%) $1.15
Sears Holdings Corporation Stock Quote
Sears Holdings Corporation
Kohl's Corporation Stock Quote
Kohl's Corporation
$28.68 (-19.64%) $-7.01
Big Lots, Inc. Stock Quote
Big Lots, Inc.
$20.42 (-2.62%) $0.55

*Average returns of all recommendations since inception. Cost basis and return based on previous market day close.

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