If you read the most popular headlines and watch your local news, then you only saw the bad that Thanksgiving Day shopping brought out. However, the media likes to focus on what draws the most eyes. If you look beneath the surface and pay attention to the hints that three big retailers dropped, then you would likely say that Thanksgiving Day was a success for Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT), Target (NYSE:TGT), and Macy's (NYSE:M).
The big picture
Prior to getting to the early reports for Wal-Mart, Target, and Macy's on a specific basis, let's first take a look at the big picture. For this holiday season, the National Retail Federation expects sales to grow at a 3.9% clip. This would represent a stronger performance than last year's holiday shopping season, when sales grew 3.4%. A Gallup poll indicates that 45% of consumers planned to shop throughout the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, with 23.5% planning to shop on Thanksgiving Day.
As far as early overall results go, according to IBM Digital Analytics, Thanksgiving Day sales for this year increased 19.7% year over year.
Retailers are opening earlier than they did in the past for competitive reasons. MasterCard recently did a study on spending which showed that consumers spend 70% of their holiday shopping money at the first two stores they visit. Therefore, retailers have no choice but to open early.
Now let's take a look at specific performances.
You might have read about fights at Wal-Mart stores throughout the country, but it's less likely that you read about the company's performance on Thanksgiving Day. While Wal-Mart won't reveal specifics, it dropped plenty of hints. Considering all of the recent public bashing Wal-Mart has received from employees and movie stars, it makes sense that the company is eager to prove its worth.
Last year, Wal-Mart served 22 million customers on Thanksgiving Day. While a specific number for this Thanksgiving Day hasn't been revealed, Wal-Mart has stated that the number of shoppers served exceeded 22 million. Wal-Mart also stated that its website, Walmart.com, had 400 million page views on Thanksgiving Day.
The biggest sellers at Wal-Mart were big-screen TVs, iPad minis, laptops, the XBOX One, the PS4, and Call of Duty: Ghosts.
While nothing is guaranteed from an expectations standpoint (for the quarter), it doesn't take a genius to figure out that Wal-Mart exceeded expectations on Thanksgiving Day. That momentum is likely to have carried over to Black Friday.
In most cases, I'm comparing Wal-Mart and Target. In this case, I'm happy to report that both retailers exceeded expectations for Thanksgiving Day. Like Wal-Mart, Target won't reveal specific numbers. Actually, Target is a little more secretive. Then again, Target is not as motivated to win back the public since it hasn't been surrounded by as much drama.
Target has stated that it saw strong traffic on Thanksgiving Day, or you could say Thanksgiving Night, since it opened at 8 p.m. Target offered more specifics about its online performance, stating that it booked at least twice as many orders as it did last year on Thanksgiving Day, and that its online sales figure was one of the highest it has seen in a single day.
Pedestrian traffic jam
Like Target, Macy's opened at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day (or night). At its flagship store in New York City, approximately 15,000 people walked through its doors. It took between 12 and 13 minutes for these people to enter the flagship store.
Macy's reports that sweaters, coats, and boots were in high demand. It also reported high demand for a pair of diamond earrings that were on sale for $599 versus their original price of $1,500. Despite the drop in price, if Macy's is selling $599 items, it's a positive sign. Those 15,000 people walking through its flagship store certainly doesn't hurt, either.
Another positive here is that Macy's employees were happy to be working. They were being paid time and a half, and 90% of them were regular employees. This combination of happy and experienced employees is likely to have optimized sales results.
The bottom line
It's already official: Thanksgiving Day retail shopping is a success. If you're a traditionalist and you don't believe in shopping on Thanksgiving Day, that's completely understandable. You have a right to be upset. On the other hand, if you're looking at Thanksgiving Day from an investment perspective, the three retailers mentioned above are likely to benefit from this new trend.
Dan Moskowitz has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of International Business Machines. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.