After spending years to make Black Friday into the year’s blockbuster shopping day, retailers undercut themselves this year.
Sales on the day after Thanksgiving fell from those a year earlier, according to one major tracker, the first decline since the recession of 2008, as for the second year in a row stores started their “doorbuster” promotions early in the week and opened even earlier on Thursday evening for business than last year.
The culprit seems to be less a faltering economy and more a diffusion of holiday shopping to other days and online.
Black Friday “is certainly not dead,” said Matthew Shay, CEO of the National Retail Federation trade group, but “it’s starting to spread out.”
For major retailers, Black Friday’s role appears to be changing. This year, stores such as Target, Sears and Toys “R” Us opened Thanksgiving evening, with Walmart starting its first doorbuster deals at 8 p.m. (versus 10 p.m. last year), drawing shoppers to stores earlier than ever and lessening Friday’s appeal.
Although store visits on the Friday after Thanksgiving rose 3.5 percent from last year, to more than 307 million visits, retail sales decreased 1.8 percent, according to research firm ShopperTrak.
On Thanksgiving, there was almost a 21 percent increase in the number of people making visits to stores or websites in the United States, according to the National Retail Federation.
“The early promotions and early openings on Thursday drew some of the sales that would normally land on Friday into Thursday,” said Bill Martin, founder of ShopperTrak. “What we’re going to start looking at is the ‘Black Weekend,’ a four-day weekend.”
Twenty-eight percent of people surveyed by the federation who said they were shopping over the weekend started at midnight or earlier on Thanksgiving. In 2009, when a few retailers started experimenting with Thanksgiving openings that began around midnight, that figure was just 3 percent.
One clear winner for the weekend was online shopping. Sales increased 17.4 percent on Thanksgiving, and 20.7 percent the next day, according to IBM, which tracks e-commerce transactions from 500 retailers.
And consumers who were shopping last weekend said 40 percent of their dollars were spent online, according to the retail federation’s survey.
The ShopperTrak data showing that visits were up but sales were down on Friday suggested that many people were buying online rather than in stores.
Over the Thanksgiving weekend, the retail federation said, shoppers increased their average spending to $423 from $398 in the period a year earlier.
But there are also signs that shoppers are getting weary of the extension of special shopping days, with Thanksgiving added to a packed schedule of Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, Mobile Tuesday and so on.
The federation predicted after a survey earlier this month that 147 million people would shop over the Black Friday weekend, but only 137 million people turned out, according to the federation’s most recent polling. Still, turnout was up 4.6 percent from the period last year.
Although retail researchers and consultants say Thanksgiving openings will probably become more commonplace, some shoppers objected to them.
“I don’t like it,” said Denny Johnson, 66, a retired property manager from Burnsville, Minn., who had come to Sam’s Club in Eagan, Minn., on Friday for a 51-inch Samsung TV. “They’re going to start this on Veterans Day if they keep going.”