* Black Friday sales up 0.5 pct vs 2008, ShopperTrak finds
* Online sales jumped on Black Friday, Coremetrics says
* U.S. shoppers say they are focused on bargains
(Adds ShopperTrak data, analyst and shopper comments)
By Jessica Wohl
CHICAGO, Nov 28 In a worrisome sign for U.S.
retailers, data released on Saturday showed that sales rose a
scant 0.5 percent on the traditional kickoff to the holiday
shopping season despite early signs of a strong showing.
A focus on bargains pulled U.S. shoppers into stores and
onto websites over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, but many
said they would stick to their budgets and avoid purchases if
they could not find a good deal.
Those trends appeared to play out in the results issued by
ShopperTrak, which measures customer traffic in stores.
The firm said retail sales rose to $10.66 billion on Black
Friday, which often is the single busiest shopping day of the
holiday season and can set the tone for the weeks leading up to
Christmas on Dec. 25.
In 2008, Black Friday sales measured by ShopperTrak rose 3
percent compared to the prior year's Black Friday. Last year's
entire holiday season marked the worst performance in nearly 40
years. The firm stuck by its forecast for total holiday sales
to rise 1.6 percent this year compared to 2008.
"I figured Black Friday would be up 1 (percent or) maybe 2
percent, just because of the deal-consciousness of folks," said
Patricia Edwards, founder and chief investment officer of
Storehouse Partners, an investment advisory firm based in
Bellevue, Washington. She noted that early November deals from
stores and online promotions also may have diverted traffic.
"It's possible it took some of the glory out of the Friday
number," she said.
Shoppers spent 35 percent more on Black Friday web
purchases than a year earlier, with the average order value
reaching $170.19, according to online retail analytics company
Coremetrics. Those shoppers bought an average of 5.4 items per
order, up from 4.6 items last year, Coremetrics said.
TOUGH HOLIDAY SEASON
Industry executives and analysts have predicted a tough
holiday season that may show only a slight improvement over
2008 due to a weak economy and high unemployment.
But their optimism had crept up earlier this week. Analysts
polled by Thomson Reuters Data on Friday had increased their
forecast for November retail same-store sales to a 2.5 percent
increase, from a previous view of 1.8 percent.
The National Retail Federation is due to release its early
holiday data on Sunday.
"This will be the hardest holiday season ever to predict,"
said Eric Karson, associate professor of marketing at the
Villanova University School of Business in Pennsylvania.
Retailers used to offer steep promotions on select items as
the initial lure for shoppers, in the hopes they would buy more
inside the store. Consumers now expect such discounts as a
matter of course.
"We have this big game of chicken now evolving between the
retailers and the customers," Karson said.
Claude Smith, a 45-year-old out-of-work plumber from
Virginia, said he was trying to pay off his bills from his
credit card, which now has a higher interest rate. He pays with
cash when he visits stores such as TJX Cos's (TJX.N) AJ Wright
"Things are bad. Everybody's thinking about saving
everything they have. I go out when there's sales and that's
it," said Smith, who visited the Galleria at White Plains mall
in New York with his two teenagers on Saturday.
BUYING ONLY WHAT'S NEEDED
Many shoppers showed they were relying on lessons learned
from the 2008 season, which began just after a global financial
crisis erupted. A U.S. unemployment rate above 10 percent and
other financial pressures also weighed on their minds.
"I have three children. I am a single mom. The economy is
bad. I am getting only those things that we really need," said
Natasha Walker, a 35-year-old telephone operator shopping in
Times Square in New York. Her purchases included a GPS
navigation system for her car, CD holders, movies for her
children and clothing for herself.
Shawn Kravetz, president of hedge fund operator Esplanade
Capital LLC, said retailers that slashed costs will do well.
"You can count companies with positive comps (an increase
in existing store sales compared to the prior year) on two
hands -- J Crew JCG.N, Wal-Mart (WMT.N), Chico's (CHS.N) and
few others. That is not a strong holiday," he said.
Even though online sales are growing, they still account
for less than 4 percent of total retail sales, Karson said.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc's (WMT.N) site Walmart.com was the most
popular retail site on Thanksgiving for the fifth year in a
row, followed by Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O) and Best Buy Inc
(BBY.N), according to tracking firm Hitwise.
Liberty Interactive's LINTA.O QVC, best known for its TV
shopping channel, rang up more than $32 million in orders for
its biggest Black Friday ever, a 60 percent increase from 2008,
QVC said. It added that more than 40 percent of the sales came
from its web site, QVC.com.
(Reporting by Jessica Wohl, additional reporting by Nicole
Maestri in San Francisco, and Jennifer Ablan, Martinne Geller
and Dhanya Skariachan in New York; Editing by Michele Gershberg
and Will Dunham)
((email@example.com +1 312 408 8132; Reuters
((See blogs.reuters.com/shop-talk/ for Shop Talk --
Reuters' retail and consumer blog.))