- - Thursday, November 29, 2012

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

With Thanksgiving behind us, investor and consumer attention is firmly focused on two things: the “fiscal cliff” in Washington and the strength of 2012 holiday shopping. While the back-and-forth between political parties has resumed now that Congress and the White House are back in town, consumers have been hard at work, taking advantage of deals offered by retailers and other vendors.

Over the four-day Black Friday shopping weekend, American consumers traveled from mall to strip mall, sought out deals, scanned bar codes, comparison-shopped, surfed the Internet and clicked away at what many call “retail therapy.” Many of the biggest retailers, including Wal-Mart, Target, Best Buy and Toys R Us, opened on Thanksgiving evening, while stores across the landscape rolled out their door-buster deals and deep discounts to lure consumers into parting with their dollars.

Did it work?

Yes, apparently, on several levels. According to the National Retail Federation, more than 35 million Americans visited retailers’ stores and websites on Thursday alone — up from 29 million in 2011.

How was Black Friday itself? ShopperTrak, which measures and analyzes foot traffic at more than 50,000 retail locations nationwide, reported store visits last Friday climbed 3.5 percent from last year to more than 307.67 million, even though Black Friday retail sales fell 1.8 percent from 2011, to $11.2 billion. Chalk it up to consumers being cautious and deal-conscious, but another possibility is that consumers have been trained over the past few years to wait for even better deals to come. A number of companies, including Amazon.com and Hanes Brands rolled out more deals as the Black Friday weekend progressed. Consumers also likely were waiting for Cyber Monday, with its own set of discounts, sales and other promotions.

Taking a step back and, looking at the entire Black Friday weekend — from late Thursday through Saturday, with projected Sunday spending — BIGinsight found that 247 million shoppers (including repeat trips) visited stores and websites over Black Friday weekend, up from 226 million last year, and in aggregate spent $59.1 billion. According to its survey findings, BIGinsight calculated the average holiday shopper spent $423 this weekend, up from $398 last year.

Blurring the line between in-store comparison shopping and stay-at-home shopping via the Internet, IBM reported that the number of consumers using their mobile devices to make purchases on Black Friday this year increased by nearly two-thirds from 2011. According to IBM, Apple’s iPad made up nearly 10 percent of online shopping traffic on Black Friday this year, while the iPhone brought in almost 9 percent and Google-powered Android devices accounted for 5.5 percent. Aside from making direct purchases, consumers were using their iPhones, iPads and Android devices to compare prices in order to get the best deals. That meant using apps such as BuyVia, Red Laser, Amazon Price Check, Decide and ShopSavvy, among others.

Online retailers had their biggest day ever on Cyber Monday as holiday shoppers drove sales up 30 percent compared to the same day last year, says IBM Smarter Commerce, which tracks Web sales at 500 top online retailers. Leading the charge were online sales for department stores, which, according to IBM, were up 43 percent compared to year-ago levels. Overall, mobile sales were up 96 percent compared to 2011, with the iPad taking the top spot as it drove more than 7 percent of online shopping. Cementing the use of mobile devices over the weekend, eBay’s PayPal service revealed that it saw nearly a tripling in mobile-payment volume on Cyber Monday.

ComScore’s 2012 holiday-season forecast calls not only for online shopping to take a rising share of overall spending but for online shopping to grow even faster than last year. ComScore forecasts that online retail spending for the November-December period will reach $43.4 billion, a 17 percent gain over 2011. Here comes the perspective: That compares to last season’s 15 percent increase and the National Retail Federation’s expectation for a 4.1 percent increase in consumers’ overall spending this holiday season.

If you’re looking for me at the mall this year, you’ll have a better chance of finding me at home clicking and shopping away on my MacBook Air.

Chris Versace is the editor of PowerTrend Brief and PowerTrend Profits newsletters. Visit them at ChrisVersace.com or follow him on twitter @chrisjversace. At the time of publication, Mr. Versace had no positions in companies mentioned; however, positions can change.