Retail Disaster: Holiday Sales Crater by 11%, Online Spend Declines: NRF Blames Shopping Fiasco On "Stronger Economy"

Tyler Durden's picture

Last year was bad. This year is an outright disaster.

As we reported earlier using ShopperTrak data, the first two days of the holiday shopping season were already showing a -0.5% decline across bricks-and-mortar stores, following a "cash for clunkers"-like jump in early promotions which pulled demand forward with little follow through in the remaining shopping days. However, not even we predicted the shocker just released from the National Retail Federation, the traditionally cheery industry organization, which just reported absolutely abysmal numbers: sales during the four-day Thanksgiving holiday period crashed by a whopping 11% from $57.4 billion to $50.9 billion, confirming what everyone but the Fed knows by now: the US middle class is being obliterated, and that key driver of 70% of US economic growth is in the worst shape it has been since the Lehman collapse, courtesy of 6 years of Fed's ruinous central planning. 

Demonstrating the sad state of America's "economic dynamo", shoppers spent an average only $380.95, down 6.4% from $407.02 a year earlier. In fact, as the NRF charts below demonstrate, there was a decline across virtually every tracked spending category (source):

As the WSJ reports, NRF's CEO Matt Shay attributed the drop to a combination of factors, including the fact that retailers moved promotions earlier this year in attempt to get people out sooner and avoid what happened last year when people didn’t finish their shopping because of bad weather.

Also did we mention the NRF is perpetually cheery and always desperate to put a metric ton of lipstick on a pig? Well, hold on to your hats folks:

He also attributed the declines to better online offerings and an improving economy where “people don’t feel the same psychological need to rush out and get the great deal that weekend, particularly if they expected to be more deals,” he said.

And of course the sprint vs marathon comparisons, such as this one: "The holiday season and the weekend are a marathon not a sprint,” NRF Chief Executive Officer Matthew Shay said on a conference call. Odd how that metaphor is never used when the (seasonally-adjusted) sprint beats the marathoners.

So there you have it: a 11% collapse in retail spending has just been spun as super bullish for the US economy, whereby US consumers aren't spending because the economy is simply too strong, and the only reason they don't spend is because they will spend much more later. Or something.

Apparently the plunge in Americans who even care about bargains is also an indication of an economic resurgence:

The retail trade group said the number of people who went shopping over the four-day weekend declined by 5.2% to 134 million, from 141 million last year.

Finally, what we said earlier about a surge in online sales, well forget it - it was a lie based on the now traditional skewed perspectives from a few self-servcing industry organizations:

Despite many retailers offering the same discounts on the Web as they offered in stores, the Internet didn’t attract more shoppers or more spending than last year. Online sales accounted for 42% of sales racked up over the four-day period, the same percentage as last year, though up from 26% in 2006, the trade group said.

In fact, it was worse: "Shoppers spent an average $159.55 online, down 10.2% from $177.67 last year."

But the propaganda piece de resistance is without doubt the following:

“A highly competitive environment, early promotions and the ability to shop 24/7 online all contributed to the shift witnessed this weekend,” Mr. Shay said.

So to summarize: holiday sales plunged, and Americans refused to shop because the economy is "stronger than ever" and because Americans have the option of shopping whenever, which is why they didn't shop in the first place. That, and of course plunging gasoline prices leading to... plunging retail sales, just as all the economists "correctly" predicted.

Goebbels approves.

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Shocker's picture

Keep saying Recovery... it will stick eventually

Layoff / Closing List:


dreadnaught's picture

WOW! Sounds like just out of Supermans BIZZARO WORLD

kliguy38's picture

Gas was too cheap and consumers had to much money so their wallets couldn't fit in their pockets to go out into the polar vortex

knukles's picture

The stronger ecojomy led to weaker sales.
You can keep your insurance if you like your insurance
You can keep your doctor if you like your doctor
Several years ago when I brought all the troops home from...
The sanctions are working
Racial harmony has never been as good as...

Gettin' kinda propaganda weary, "folks"

Escrava Isaura's picture



The article:

“…the US middle class is being obliterated, and that key driver (consumption) of 70% of US economic growth is in the worst shape


Consumption? Duhh!


"A man grows rich by employing a multitude of manufacturers; he grows poor by maintaining a multitude of menial servants" -- Adam Smith


remain calm's picture

Americas middle class is waiting for Fergusen like sales. That's when the merchandise really moves off the shelfs. Stay tuned, coming soon to your neighborhood.

economics9698's picture


ZH is referring to the fact that 68% of the GDP calculation, GDP = Consumption + Investment + Government Spending + (Exports – Imports), is consumption for the USA economy.

Y = C + I + G+ NX

Japan and other countries save more and spend less, Japan 55%.

The reason is debt, we are maxed out, tapped out, and the only way out is default for many consumers.  The only question being asked is when the deleveraging happens.  Most ZH’ers time it at 5 years to 6.6 years in the latest boom cycle.  We are at year 6 now.

hedgeless_horseman's picture



I was in a TJ Maxx with my kid and his friend.  We were talking to one of their friends that worked there at the checkout counter.  I asked him how to make an announcement over the PA with the phone. 

I said,

"Neighbors, I would like to remind you to please not buy anything that you cannot afford.  Be thankful for what you already have.  Have a Happy Thanksgiving!"

The manager called the cops on me.  True.

Skateboarder's picture

You are a gentleman and a scholar. That's the best Thanksgiving story I heard this year. Who woulda thunk that reminding others to not buy things with debt would be civil disobedience.

Alhazred's picture

This is why we cant have nice things.

Do the ologarchs know this?


If they just let the line go slack a little they could steal far far more from us.

Rock On Roger's picture

I haven't been in a store for a week.

I bought some gasoline today, using a card at the pump.

Didn't go in the store though.


When I get the urge to spend money I go to the lcs.


Stack On



The9thDoctor's picture

shoppers spent an average only $380.95, down 6.4% from $407.02 a year earlier.

 I don't consider 6.4% down "a disaster".  If the average shopper spent less than $100, yeah that would be a disaster.  $380 is a nice chunk of change for a weekend shopping trip to department stores.

The brick and mortar format has been dying since the early 2000s, and many people have been going online. had its best online day ever, and had its second best day ever, only behind last year's cyber monday.

I'm not a doomer as everyone knows by now, I just see shopping habits evolve and hedge accordingly.  Giant regional indoor malls died in the 1980s, Big Box stores in strip malls replaced them in the 90s, but they too are dying in the late 2000s, and eCommerce is the latest trend.

Supernova Born's picture

Fuck The9thDoctor.

Tyler, please fix the voting glitch.

Billy the Poet's picture

View page source, search by comment number, click link indicated as down vote or copy link location and paste in address bar.

Oldwood's picture

Debt is the only spending but even that dies eventually.

I was at a car dealership Saturday about noon and there was no one there. Huge dealership advertising $12K off new pickup trucks. One of the top volume dealerships in the Dallas metro area and two people shopping.

I was at a large gun show the same day. Talking to some regular vendors there and same story. There was a lot of people there but slow sales. I suggested to one that they are suffering a deflationary period. When prices were rising, sales were brisk. But now that ammo prices have declined and there is no new gun emergency, people are waiting to see how low prices will go.

Went to Gander mountain this morning around 11am and there were maybe twenty cars in the lot (new mega store) and fewer people inside.

All anecdotal but just didn't see a lot to tell me anything good. I'm sure Walmart was kicking it but it takes a lot of Walmart sales to move the needle.

Dallas has been blessed compared to many other areas (wish my business could claim the same, but could always be worse) and I must say I see lots of new cars on the road, but how long can it last? We know energy has been one of the players here and that is now under pressure (I have several contracts with oil companies right now), but a second one is road construction. I must say after living here for 35 years I have NEVER seen so much road construction. Huge major projects everywhere. I don't know where the money is coming from, but it surely can't last.

I can't help but think that with Texas making as much noise against Obama, that funds will start coming up short. While the government enjoys any claim to positive economic news, if things start turning undeniably bad, how long will they allow Texas to be the outlier? Ideology ultimate rules and if, as I believe is true, they are ultimately out to bring this sucker to its knees, Highway, education, border security funds not to mention healthcare will find itself under pressure in Texas.

MiltonFriedmansNightmare's picture

Last time I checked an FRN was a debt obligation.

Citxmech's picture

I keep waiting for deflation to hit the pre-owned firearm market. . .  

Been itching for a nice 4" Coly Python for basically my whole life - damn things never seem to go on sale though.


cornflakesdisease's picture

Here in Houston, there are gadzillions of new pick up trucks on empty lots a half mile from the dealerships pocketed here and there.  I wish we could post photos on zerohedge.  It's quite the site here in west houston.

jerry_theking_lawler's picture

On the new car bit...took an unscientific survey this weekend myself. Was making a note on the number of new cars on the I did an impromptu survey on a 2 lane road with heavy traffic in a mid-size town in the decent neighborhood (mid-class part of town). Past 73 vehicles in 3 mile stretch. 71 appeared to be newer than 5 years (most newer than 2-3). Only 1 old beater and 1 10+ year toyota.

Recovery, yes!

ebworthen's picture

"You get the max for the minimum, minimum price"...if you buy nothing!

I don't know about y'all but I'm selling stuff and minimizing.

My goal is to get it down to what fits in the bed and cap of my little pick up truck.

Oldwood's picture

While I'm all for keeping debt levels down, ultimately preparedness will be the most valuable as a state of mind. The ability to function under pressure, adapt and respond to changing circumstances...dealing with chaos will rule the day. Will the currency of the day be dollars, gold, lead, bread or a gallon of gas? There are lots of reasons we are where we are today but principally I think we have got here simply because we (collectively) have failed to respond properly to our challenges. Debt illustrates this perfectly in that we have chosen debt to living on our wages. Those who have resisted this temptation will be best prepared to deal with what comes, not just because of a lack of financial burden, but because they can make hard choices, show restraint, embrace austerity. Do what others will not.

The masses will stream into the streets demanding justice and find nothing but violence and a bitter end.

Boondocker's picture

I am ready to go at a moments notice...what we haven't gotten rid of I can leave behind.

Rock On Roger's picture

I hope you guys plan on going to Mexico,

It is very cold if you go the opposite direction.


-40F saturday morning here.

mt paul's picture

20 above 

north of the alaskan range


very slow start on an Arctic winter

Headbanger's picture

Yeah, but it's a dry cold....

And that's when a high fat diet helps.

And +20 is balmy weather you can still golf in.

Pareto's picture

Tell me you just didn't do that!!!  +100.  Thats awesome!!  Apart from the cops showing up (a part of the story I would love to hear more about), did you get any reaction from the shoppers?

PT's picture

HH:  So you mean it's all your fault!!!!!!!!



How come all these reasons get rolled out but no-one ever says, "No-one has any money"?

I have this bizarre problem where the cheaper things are, the less money I have and I can NEVER take advantage of any bargains!  Bloddy maths - it makes me poooooor!

ziggy59's picture

Heads I win, tails you lose...

Escrava Isaura's picture




+ Hedonics and - substitutions

Or something like that.

Anyway, not a mathematician because can't remember well.


WhackoWarner's picture

Tell you "folks" what I have seen for years.


Food is being redesigned and repackaged at smaller weights/  SAME PRICE or higher....


Beef is through the roof in guess the Futures were right.  Other than that next time you are at a grocery store take note.  Most items as be being shrunk while prices go up.  Discounts for toilet paper etc.  draw people in to buy the new downsized/price increased food.

ONLY deals( if you are an idiot)  still are the fire sales on chips and dips.  Frozen pizza.  Kraft Dinner.  It is the gift of obesity and diabetes that keeps on drawing people in.  Eggs/meat/veggies  are going through the roof. ONLY thing anyone can do is use knowledge.  And grow as much as you can yourself.

Oil may be going down but the price of a healthy diet is going sky high.


AND I emphasize...major food companies are redesigning their outward packaging...and disguising the shrunken size and increase in price.  Coming to a Planet near you.


Stoploss's picture

If the Fergers don't pay for shit. Why should we????????

palmereldritch's picture

Can't wait for GTA - Ferguson Edition!! 

I wanna play Holder!!!

(...Where are the Molotovs?...They gotta be a free unlock)

Silver Sativa's picture

"A man grows rich by employing a multitude of manufacturers; he grows poor by maintaining a multitude of menial servants" -- Adam Smith


  • The food service industry.
  • The hospitality industry.
  • The retail industry.

In other words: ? 85% of the USA economy.

Wait until Feb, 2015, when Americans don't shop enough, and we head into that third iteration of a triple-dip depressio -- Oops, I mean recession.

RafterManFMJ's picture

Yup I've so much extra cash in my wallet I was simply unable to leverage myself out of the LayZBoy and get out to the mall.

Were it not for pizza delivery, I'd be dead from starvation by now. Everybody I know laments our common problem: Business is good and we've got so much currency we just are at a loss to spend it.

In reality we're on reduced turns - 12-15 per week, had a shutdown week, and I took another week off on VLO ... Layoffs are rumored.

No orders. Slack operations.

acetinker's picture

Just curious, what's a vlo?  What's a reduced turn?

I am my own employer, my customers decide whether I live or die.  Thing is, your customers (owners) decide whether you die or not as well, but you don't know your customers on a first-name basis, do you?

Did I say I don't wanna hurt you?

I will say this;  If you ain't hung out your own shingle and made stuff happen with your ass and your face, you don't know shit.

Dragon HAwk's picture

VLO=voluntary lay off. time off no pay...

Lore's picture

VLOA = Voluntary Leave Of Absence

disabledvet's picture

Thought I'd live large today and get the croissant at Dunkin. Nay, veerily! All out! 

Did some Hedging (yeah, that was me laughing hysterically in the corner all by my lonesome) and ..say what again!..."yes, mam. No problem getting you your croissant."


RafterManFMJ's picture

A Turn is an 8 hour shift. 3 shifts in a day, 7 days a week - full throttle thus is a 21 turn schedule. If your business is scheduled 15 turns, it means just working 5 days. 3X5.

A Short Turn is working an 8 or 16 and having to be back at work in 8 hours.

A Force is thinking you're going home, but sadly, they need more bodies or somebody called off, so you get forced to work another 8.

VLO Voluntary Lay Off

Off hand, if you'd like a pretty good read check out Rivethead by Hamper.


Oldwood's picture

Employment is another delusion supported by our government that allows people to feel secure in their existence, while actually removing ever more of their ability to self sustain. People can feel secure in their job up until the day of their firing. In an economy based completely on "confidence" it is the only workable solution. For those of us self employed, we can afford no delusions, unless we are a fictional start up using venture capital from heaven, or a crony corporation on the government tit.

Its simply fantastical that so many employees will rail against their evil corrupt employers for years yet NEVER venture out on their own. Of course it is an appendage of the liberal mindset that tells them that to do so would be to engage into the corruption they despise, but never hesitate to milk dry any benefits coming from it.

TheReplacement's picture

Wow you sound like such a smart guy, like you have it all figured out.

Have you considered that some people just arent' very good at doing that like you probably can't design a rocket engine for crap?  What would you do if you had to design a rocket engine?  Would you HIRE someone?  By your definition there is nobody out there who would be hireable and worth a damn.  Funny that doesn't make any sense at all on your theory.

PS - I think you are being a douche in case the inference isn't clear enough.

Oldwood's picture

Yes it is obvious that you are not a rocket scientist, but I do think you may be  selling yourself and many others short.

My point is that historically people have been largely self employed. Now we have jobs. Jobs protected by law. Jobs that not only provide employment with a paycheck but also healthcare and retirement and vacation and holiday pay plus unemployment if you happen to lose your job.

I believe anything that creates a false sense of security damages us and this damage leaves us prey to those who would do us harm. Why would anyone WANT to be dependent upon an employer? Why would they want to be in debt? Why would they want to be reliant on welfare and government entitlements rather than dependent upon themselves? 

Our governments love the concept of employment because it supports their love of dependency but it also furthers their concentration of power. What power would government have if employers were not forced to be their tax collectors? What chance would they have if they had to chase down each and every one of us for our taxes. The best part is that government charges employers with these responsibilities while also demonizing them, just as they do with police, banks, insurance companies and just about everyone else. The genius is to derive self serving policies while keeping us at each others throats throats. 

The argument is not about everyone being a businessman but about retaining our personal responsibilities for ourselves. Employment as it is currently structures does more harm than good.

Hobo Sapien's picture

"An entrepreneur is someone who takes a prospective employee up to the top of a hill, and points out down below the golf course and country club, the huge houses with swimming pools, the yachts in the harbor,... then turns to the employee and says, 'Someday... if you work very, very hard,... all of this will be mine."

I like your point Oldwood. What stopped me, and I think many others, was lack of access to das capital.

Oldwood's picture

There is no doubt that if we follow the model presented...that the only real business is one that starts with a couple of million a year in sales and an IPO in two, then yes, capital is a problem. But if you are willing to start small, it may not be in rocket design or competing with GE, you can get something going. A problem we face is that increasingly Americans perceive themselves as too good for most entry level positions and especially occupations. It is the people who have dug in the dirt with their hands that understand that if you are to get to the top, or at least off the bottom, you are going to have to get dirty. Most will not and instead accept a "position" with a firm that offers them limited responsibilities and "benefits". Those two items do more to capture and retain people than any other. Anyone who has gone out on their own, from high tech to no tech understands being ultimately responsible for your results is the only defining metric. A chicken in a coupe likes the regular feed and shelter from the storm and predators. It is only when the processor shows up do they start to get an clue as to their circumstances. Most businesses do not exist for their employees, they exist for their owners. This is not to say that employers do not care about their employees, only that there are priorities. You cannot expect anyone to put themselves ahead of, if you are important then it is up to you.

PT's picture

VERY Roughly speaking, with the industral revolution came :
1.  Specialization
2.  Employer as a Customer.

When one gives up all other customers for the sake of servicing just one customer, the dynamics change.  R&D into sales falls off the map, sacrificed for the pursuit of R&D into production.  When you only have one customer, sales is not necessary.  Production IS the sales story.

The water that flows around the rocks is given up, traded for a sharp spear, thrown at great speed.  The spear is a far faster and more efficient vehicle than water, until the spear hits a rock.  Then the spear stops dead in its tracks, whereas water will just flow around the rock.  For years, spears were the most efficient vehicle.  But now it is time to give up the spear and return to water, which can flow around the rock.

Giving up sales skills gave people the time to hone their production skills, which now has left them exceedingly vulnerable to unemployment.  As people SLOWLY wake up to the fact that in order to survive, they need to resurrect their sales skills, production skills will suffer.

Oldwood's picture

There appears to be more sales people than ever before. With manufacturing in decline the only opportunity exists for the middlemen.