Thanksgiving Openings Eat Into Black Friday Sales

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Nov. 30 2013 10:13 PM

Thanksgiving Openings Eat Into Black Friday Sales

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Shoppers had to deal with smaller crowds on Black Friday this year, when foot traffic plunged 11 percent from 2012

Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images

There was lots of anecdotal evidence Friday that suggested malls may have been a little bit emptier the day after Thanksgiving than normal. And now we have numbers to back that up. Foot traffic on the biggest shopping day of the year was down an astounding 11 percent from 2012. And shoppers across the country spent $9.47 billion on Black Friday, a 13.2 percent plunge from last year, according to research firm ShopperTrak. But combined spending on Thanksgiving and Black Friday rose 2.3 percent to $12.3 billion, marking the weakest gains in holiday spending since 2009, highlights Bloomberg.

Despite the online protests and cries that retailers were ruining Thanksgiving by eschewing tradition and opening on Thursday, it seems people like the idea of shopping right before, after, or even perhaps instead of, eating turkey with the family. “The data reflects that Thanksgiving, which along with Christmas was one of two days a year that most stores were closed, is becoming an important day for major retailers,” points out the Associated Press.

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Yet the hope that the Thursday openings would lead to stronger sales overall was apparently dashed. As many had predicted, it just spread out shoppers more. “The Thursday store openings did well,” said Bill Martin, founder of the research firm ShopperTrak, according to the New York Times. “But a lot of it was at the expense of Black Friday.”

The continuing increase of online purchases may have also helped motivate some shoppers to stay at home rather than brave the crowds. Online sales rose 20 percent on Thanksgiving and 19 percent on Black Friday, according to IBM data quoted by Bloomberg. Adobe Systems has even more optimistic data, saying online sales soared 39 percent Friday and 18 percent on Thanksgiving, according to Reuters. The amount of mobile traffic is also seen as particularly significant, accounting for 40 percent of all online traffic on Friday.

“That’s pretty staggering,” Jay Henderson, strategy director for IBM Smarter Commerce tells the New York Times. “You hear a lot about the year of mobile, and this is probably the fifth annual year of mobile. But 40 percent of all traffic feels like a tipping point.”

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.