The shopping day that was supposed to signal the renaissance of the US consumer, and justify the massive overhiring by US retailers (not to mention the completely dislocated from reality surge in stock price for razor thin margin retailers like Amazon), is increasingly seeming to be a dud. WSJ reports, citing channel checker ShopperTrak, that "Black Friday sales rose only slightly from a year ago even though more shoppers visited stores, retail traffic monitor ShopperTrak said Saturday, setting the stage for another uncertain holiday season for retailers. Sales increased 0.3% to $10.7 billion, according to ShopperTrak, which installs monitoring devices in stores to gauge traffic. Traffic rose by 2.2%, ShopperTrak said." For the observant ones out there, this is in nominal terms: adjusted for inflation there was actually a drop in end sales. Even so, the primary reason for the disappointment is that Black Friday actually started early on in the month, with most retailers offering comparable loss-leading deals such as those seen on the Friday after the national holiday early in November, reducing the actual purchasing power for the all important day. "The smaller than expected increase is due in part to discounts offered earlier in November as well as online-only promotions, ShopperTrak founder Bill Martin said. Traffic to stores was up over 6% for the first two weeks of November, an early boost that could affect retailers' performance in the coming weeks, he said." Last but not least it should also be noted that with millions of Americans living mortgage payment free for over 18 months now, and using money that should be going to banks (and nationalized GSEs) to instead purchase shoe closet 32 inch TVs, that sooner or later the bulk of American taxpayers who funded yet another top line (but certainly not margin) bonanza for the nation's retailers may soon say enough, and vote against further subsidies of zombie companies whose existence allows for continued US consumer "strength."
More from the WSJ:
"The reality is we have a deal-driven consumer in 2010," Mr. Martin said in a release. "The American shopper has adapted to the economic climate over the last couple of years and is possibly spending more wisely as the holiday season begins."
It is not all bad news: it turns out the conversion rate was higher as more Americans than last year, taking a clue from their leaders, have decided to buy now, and pay never:
In a somewhat more optimistic reading than ShopperTrak's, market research firm NPD Group Inc. said retailers did a better job this Black Friday in getting people who visited their stores to leave with something in the shopping bag. The so-called rate of conversion rose by 4% over the prior-year period, NPD said, with 95% of shoppers in stores making a purchase.
"Retailers did a better job of luring consumers in with big deals and great savings," Marshal Cohen, NPD Group's chief industry analyst, said in a release.
We hope to get more in-depth channel checks courtesy of our own expert network over the next day, but for the time being we are content that CNBC's producers are already huddling around a conference table 3 deep, coming up with ways to spin the disappointing sales data as favorable to the familiar teleprompter reading propaganda crew.