The holiday shopping season got off to a surprisingly solid start, data released on Saturday by a research firm showed.
But the sales boost during the post-Thanksgiving “shopathon” came at the expense of profits as the nation’s retailers had to slash prices to attract the crowds in a season that is expected to be the weakest in decades.
Sales on the day after the US Thanksgiving holiday rose to US$10.6 billion, preliminary figures released on Saturday by ShopperTrak RCT Corp, a Chicago-based research firm that tracks sales at more than 50,000 retail outlets, showed.
Last year, shoppers spent about US$10.3 billion on the day after Thanksgiving, dubbed Black Friday because it was historically the sales-packed day when retailers would become profitable, or in the black, for the year.
While it is not a predictor of overall holiday season sales, Black Friday is an important barometer of Americans’ willingness to spend during the holidays. Last year, it was the biggest sales generator of the season.
But experts caution that this year’s sales growth may be hard to sustain for the remainder of the holiday shopping season, which has 27 days between Thanksgiving and Christmas instead of the 32 last year.
Still, the sales boost was surprising in light of data showing shoppers are scaling back on discretionary spending because of a recession fueled by uncertainty related to turmoil in the world’s financial and credit markets.
“Under these circumstances, to start off the season in this fashion is truly amazing and is a testament to the resiliency of the American consumer, and undeniably proves a willingness to spend,” ShopperTrak co-founder Bill Martin said in a statement.
Across the country, sales in the South were up 3.4 percent from last year while they climbed 2.6 percent in the Northeast as shoppers began scouring store aisles at midnight hoping to snag the best selection on early morning specials.
Separately on Saturday, JC Penney Co Inc said business was strong in its sites across the country as customers responded to sales. Some of the department store’s best sellers were smaller electronic gadgets and practical gifts, such as sweaters, boots, coats and luggage.
But the chain said it would not provide specific sales figures.
“In light of the challenging and volatile economic climate, and shifts in this year’s retail calendar, we don’t believe that reporting sales data for any one day [or weekend], including Black Friday, would provide a meaningful barometer of our business,” the Plano, Texas company said in a statement released on Saturday afternoon.