Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Almighty Shopping Day Is Here

Every year on this day I play a game. I count how many TV people will mindlessly parrot the old saw about this being the busiest shopping day of the year. It’s not, and hasn’t been for decades. The Saturday before Christmas is the biggest shopping day of the year, according to the National Retail Federation and the International Council of Shopping Centers.

But TV folks are more about showbiz than facts.

Last year, a Wal-Mart employee was trampled to death when Black Friday doorbuster sales began. TV loves to show those crowds of folks stampeding into the stores. Makes for great “visuals”, as they say in the biz.

Oh, it’s a busy shopping day, to be sure - and store traffic will be high - but anybody’s who ever endured that Saturday-before-Christmas mess will tell you which shopping day is really the “busiest”.

Two years ago in Madison on the Saturday before Christmas traffic was so bad the Westbound Beltline exit to Gammon Road was backed up to Seminole Highway. But that was two years ago, when credit-card fueled spending was out of control. Now - not so much.

That’s why retailers are nervous.

Black Friday means different things, depending on who you are. Originally, Black Friday was an insider term, a piece of jargon shared by cops and retail employees, referring to the horrible traffic and the incredibly rude customers.

That phrase got spun by marketing consultants who wanted to put a more positive tone to it, saying it was the day the ink on the ledger turned from red to black.

Now, everybody and their brother advertises “Black Friday” specials.
So, where does Black Friday actually rank in terms of dollar volume of shopping? In the past fifteen years, the highest it’s been ranked is #4 (2002), and the lowest (in ‘93, ‘98, and ‘99) was 8th. For a handful of stores, particularly smaller stores, today will be their biggest day. But the big-box mass retailers know the real bonanza is yet to come.

But there’s nervousness and fear in the air this year. 93% of shoppers surveyed by the Associated Press say they will spend the same or less this year. Four out of five shoppers this year say they’ll be using cash, not credit, to buy presents, and that usually means buying less. Credit card shoppers are far more impulsive.

Consumer spending is the single largest driver of overall economic activity, so what happens today at the malls and stores will be very important in determining how the economy bounces back from the worst recession in 70 years.

Has it come down to “as Black Friday goes, so goes the economy”? No, but I wouldn’t be surprised to hear somebody on TV say it today or tonight.

There’s always Cyber Monday….but, that’s a different story.

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