Early start proves to be boon

Consumers 'were definitely buying and not looking'

MarketWatchNovember 24, 2012 

NEW YORK — Early indicators from Black Friday sales and foot traffic are giving retailers some hope for the holiday season.

Macy's CEO Terry Lund gren, for instance, stood at the door of the company's flagship store in New York's Herald Square when it opened at midnight and watched.

"The flow never stopped," Lundgren said of the stream of customers, adding he expects traffic and sales from Macy's stores nationwide to top those from last year. But sustaining the momentum is the key, he commented. "We are going to do everything to keep shoppers coming."

Black Friday actually began Thursday this year, with increasing numbers of merchants, including Wal-Mart, Toys R Us, Sears, Kmart and Target starting their doorbuster promotions earlier than ever.

"Earlier openings are definitely beneficial," Moody's analyst Charles O'Shea told MarketWatch, saying he considered Wal-Mart an early winner based on his store visits.

"The 'early-opening arms race' is definitely here to stay," O'Shea said. "Retailers not opening until (Friday) morning are potentially sacrificing some momentum."

The analyst expects retailers to report better Black Friday sales and traffic this year.

Friday is expected to be the biggest sales and traffic day this holiday season, after sales on last year's Black Friday rose 6.6 percent to a record $11.4 billion, according to mall tracker ShopperTrak.

Retailers including Macy's, Best Buy and Toys R Us said they were seeing people buying beyond what's on sale. Lundgren said shoppers were buying full-priced cosmetics and fragrances, for instance.

Consumers "were definitely buying and not looking," Toys R Us CEO Jerry Storch said in an interview. He reported people were buying items such as its new Tabeo tablet device and Nintendo's Wii U at full price.

With Amazon.com, Best Buy and others introducing Thanksgiving sales online, Internet sales look to set another record. Record online shopping was seen Thursday, with sales up 17.4 percent over 2011, according to IBM Benchmark.

The total U.S. online visits to the top 500 retail sites on Thanksgiving were up 16 percent compared with the same day in 2011, according to Internet data collector Experian Marketing Services.

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