It’s too early for actual store numbers, but the hoopla surrounding Black Friday has been enormous. Check out these headlines:

Shoppers Storm Malls

Shoppers Storm U.S. Malls as Black Friday Indicates Sales Jump

Shoppers snapped up 500 gift cards in 15 minutes yesterday at the Mall at Robinson, a shopping center about 10 miles outside Pittsburgh.

Last year, it took two hours to hand them out, said Shema Krinsky, the mall’s marketing director, who added that the parking lot was 90 percent full by 8:30 a.m.

“We expect this to be what the rest of the holiday has in store,” Krinsky said in a telephone interview.

Across the U.S., stores reported heavier traffic than last year as Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year, got off to its earliest start yet. Foot traffic at the Mall at Robinson increased the most in five years, Krinsky said. At Macy’s Inc.’s flagship store in New York’s Herald Square, many people were shopping for themselves for the first time in two years, Chief Executive Officer Terry Lundgren said.

After denying themselves in the wake of the recession, many American consumers seem ready to spend this holiday season, says Neil Stern, senior partner at Chicago-based consultancy McMillan Doolittle.

“There’s no question that there is pent-up consumer demand that will drive retail growth this season,” he said in an interview yesterday. “America is still a consumer-driven society, we just haven’t had the means to indulge.”

“Seems Like Old Times”

Yahoo!Finance says What recession? Shoppers eat up Black Friday deals

For one day at least, you could almost imagine the recession never happened. Millions of the nation’s shoppers braved rain and cold to crowd stores while others grabbed online bargains on what could be the busiest Black Friday ever.

Early signs pointed to bigger crowds at many stores including Best Buy, Sears, Macy’s and Toys R Us, some of which had earlier openings than past years or even round-the-clock hours. Minnesota’s Mall of America and mall operators Taubman Centers Inc. and Macerich Co. also reported more customers than last year.

But the most encouraging sign for retailing and for the economy was what Americans were throwing in their carts. Shoppers still clutched lists and the buying frenzy was focused on the deals on TVs and toys, but many were treating themselves while they bought gifts for others, adding items like boots, sumptuous sweaters, jewelry and even dresses for special occasions.

Online Too!

MarketWatch says Black Friday shoppers spill over online as Bargain-hunters rely more on mobile devices and social networking

As malls and department stores overflowed with Black Friday shoppers, online retailers also saw a boost in sales as more Web-oriented bargain hunters avoided the crowds.

Online sales for possibly the biggest shopping day of the year jumped nearly 16% from a year ago with average order values up 12% to $190.80 from $170.19, according to a Saturday report from Coremetrics, an IBM unit that tracks online traffic.

Having the biggest impact were affluent shoppers, rebounding from last year’s recession environment. Jewelers alone reported a 17.6% increase in Friday online sales.

“While the percentage of visitors arriving from social network sites is fairly small relative to all online visitors — nearly 1% — it is gaining momentum, with Facebook dominating the space,” the research firm said.

Use of mobile devices on Black Friday as a shopping tool surged 26.7% compared to a year-ago, albeit off of low levels, Coremetrics said. Nearly 6% of people logging onto a retailers’ Web sites did so with the use of a mobile device.

Black Friday Bust?

Stores overflowing, online sales up 16%, people loading carts, and with all the images of people camping out overnight floating about all over the internet, one might have thought sales would 5%, 6%, or even 8%.

I suspect we will not really know until next week but this Wall Street Headline sure caught my eye:

Black Friday Sales Rise .3 Percent

Please consider Black Friday Sales Rise, But Only Slightly

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.

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.

“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.”

Although much has been made about the role of cell phones in the new retail landscape, the share of people who use those devices to shop remains small. Only 5.6% of people logged onto a retailer’s website using a mobile device, according to Coremetrics.

According to ShopperTrak, the Northeast and the Midwest regions of the country showed the strongest gains in sales, with 1.7% and 0.4% increases, respectively, over last year. The West posted no increase, while the South saw sales fall 0.3%.

Black Friday Bust May Be Caused By Earlier Discounts

24/7 Wall Street suggests Black Friday Bust May Be Caused By Earlier Discounts

Huge discounts offered to consumers in early November may have hurt Black Friday sales, and the trouble may not be over. Research from ShopperTrak shows that Black Friday retail sales at the store level rose so little over 2009 that the increase is barely perceptible.

Sales per purchase appear to have dropped because total “U.S. foot traffic increased 2.2 percent on Black Friday which points to a shopper driven by various sales and promotions.” The increases in store visits is larger than overall sales growth.
The reality is we have a deal driven consumer in 2010 and that consumer responded to some of the earliest deep discounts we’ve even seen for the holidays.”

Once again I caution we need actual sales numbers, but for all the hoopla, even +2% would be a disappointment. Right now, it appears sales were flat.

Should that prove to be the case, it’s a good thing. Consumers need to improve their balance sheets.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock
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