Black Friday Sales Suffer After Early Deals and Discounts

Early results show the shopping season is changing

Black Friday sales dropped an estimated 11 percent this year, the National Retail Federation (NRF) reported, and foot traffic dipped as well.

According to a preliminary survey, total Black Friday spending was projected to drop to $50.9 billion from $57.4 billion. The organization also found that only 55.1 percent of holiday shoppers made purchases over the weekend, dropping from 58.7 percent in 2013.

But while the overall numbers dropped, the story changes when you break out brick-and-mortal retail locations and online shopping. Much of the holiday traffic seems to have shifted from stores to the Web. IBM’s annual online shopping report pointed out that online sales on Thanksgiving Day shot up 14.3 percent from 2013, while Black Friday online sales jumped 9.5 percent. However, the IBM survey noted the average online consumer only spent $125-$130 over the holiday weekend, down about 4 percent. This compares, according to the NRF, to an average $380.95 that a shopper spends in total across both platforms.

One reason for the decline in spending on Black Friday? Retailers—both in stores and online—made deep discounts in the days and weeks leading up to the holiday, rather than saving them all for one day.

“More stores are opening, and earlier, which has caused a shift in shopping patterns. While Thanksgiving [Day] store visits increased 27.3 percent, Black Friday was down about 5.6 percent,” Bill Martin, founder of ShopperTrak, said.

Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at the NPD Group, told The New York Times shoppers are also being cautious with their money.

Cohen noted that age plays a part in when and where people shop. Teens and young adults prefer the rush of Black Friday sales and deals, whereas older millennials and beyond spread their spending across the season. Millennials led the way in Black Friday shopping this year, according to IBM, with 74.3 percent in the 18 to 34 age group saying they would shop over the weekend. There was a drop in 35- to 54-year-old shoppers, at 53.8 percent, and only 39.2 percent of those 55 and older planned to venture into the madness.

Overall, analysts reminded retailers that last weekend doesn't define the entire holiday shopping season. ShopperTrak's founder, for example, noted Black Friday shopping rose in 2013, yet the season underperformed. The reverse could be true this year.

“There is a significant amount of energy left in the consumer with seven of the top 10 sales days of the year yet to come, including Super Saturday, which is projected to be the number one spending day of the year,” ShopperTrak's Martin said of the last Saturday before Christmas.