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Two articles that appeared today and covered retail sales over the Black Friday weekend appear to contradict each other.

In an upbeat post on the Home Media Web site, writer Chris Tribbey said that more than 141 million shoppers gave their credit cards a workout last weekend, up about 1.4% from last year. Total spending for the weekend was estimated to reach $57.4B, according to the National Retail Federation.

The NRF also claimed that 40% of shoppers bought their items online, which is a record. ShopperTrak said that sales on Thanksgiving and Black Friday came to $12.3B, up 2.8% from last year. Electronics and DVD/Blu-ray discs were among the top four purchases made in over 1 million visits to brick-and-mortar stores.

Matthew Shay, CEO of the National Retail Federation (NRF), was quoted in the story as saying, “By all appearances and according to CEOs I’ve spoken with across the retail spectrum, it looks like the early opening of stores on Thanksgiving and the traditional start of holiday shopping on Black Friday is breaking new records, including what companies are seeing through their digital channels. The key takeaway at this point is that the real winners are in fact the consumers, who are recognizing more savings through competitive pricing and great promotions being offered in every category.”

In another story in the New York Times, Elizabeth Harris writes that consumers spent about $1.7B less than they did in in 2012, quoting the same National Retail Federation. In this story, Shay was not quite as upbeat, saying “There are some economic challenges that many Americans still face. So in general terms, many are intending to be a little bit more conservative with their budgets.”

The Times story showed that, although overall sales were up from last year, the average amount each consumer spent or planned to spend by the close of business on Sunday dropped about $16 from $423 to $407. Total weekend spending (as in the Home Media story) was predicted to be $57.4B, which actually represents a decrease of about 3% Y-Y.

Many retailers started their discounting as early as November 1, which may have impacted Thanksgiving and Black Friday traffic. The ShopperTrak data left out of the Home Media article reveals that Black Friday sales declined 13.2% from 2012, no doubt cannibalized from earlier store openings on Thanksgiving.

I spent the holidays with relatives in southern Vermont, and the Friday and Saturday news broadcasts showed plenty of parking spaces at malls in Albany, NY (about an hour’s drive to the southwest). Indeed; it appeared from the local news coverage that Thanksgiving evening was pure pandemonium, but Friday and Saturday were more like a regular Monday or Tuesday.

Either way, this annual exercise in crass mercantilism comes at a cost to store chains. Wal-Mart, Target, and Best Buy have all lowered expectations for the quarter, citing sliding consumer confidence and slow wage growth (now, THAT’S ironic, coming from Wal-Mart!) as reasons why consumers won’t open up more of their wallets.

Perhaps the lone bit of good news – at least for manufacturers and retailers of tablets and smart phones – was that 40% of all online transactions were from mobile devices, according to Jay Henderson of IBM Smarter Commerce. In the Times article, Henderson was quoted as saying, “That’s pretty staggering. You hear a lot about the year of mobile, and this is probably the fifth annual year of mobile. But 40 percent of all traffic feels like a tipping point.”

According to the IBM data, mobile sales were responsible for about 26 percent of total online sales on Thursday and nearly 22 percent on Friday. IBM saw a late surge in online shopping on both days. Smartphones accounted for about 25 percent of shopping traffic on Friday, with over 14 percent coming from tablets. As far as actual online sales went, tablets accounted for 14 percent and smartphones about 7 percent.

Even so; shopping in brick-and-mortar stores still accounts for more than 90 percent of all retail sales. I’ve used my tablet(s) to shop for the best price in retail stores and then gone a-shopping, and I suspect others have, too.

So – was this a good or bad Black Friday weekend? Depends on your point of view…

Posted by Pete Putman, December 2, 2013 12:51 PM

About Pete Putman

Peter Putman is the president of ROAM Consulting L.L.C. His company provides training, marketing communications, and product testing/development services to manufacturers, dealers, and end-users of displays, display interfaces, and related products.

Pete edits and publishes HDTVexpert.com, a Web blog focused on digital TV, HDTV, and display technologies. He is also a columnist for Pro AV magazine, the leading trade publication for commercial AV systems integrators.