Speed Reads

Bleak Friday?

Black Friday sales were surprisingly bleak for retailers

Millions of people shopped in stores and online Thanksgiving weekend, but fewer shoppers spent 11 percent less from Thursday though Sunday this year compared with last, the National Retail Federation said Sunday night.

According to the NFR's survey, by Prosper Insights & Analytics, weekend sales dropped to an estimated $50.9 billion, from $57.4 billion in 2013, and about 133.7 million people said they shopped online or in stores over the four days, a 5.2 percent drop from last year. The retail trade group stood by its forecast that over the entire season, spending will rise 4.1 percent from 2013, but it had a bunch of conflicting explanations for why Black Friday weekend was a relative bust, especially given dropping gas prices and increasing consumer confidence.

NRF president and CEO Matthew Shay gamely welcomed the "evolutionary change in holiday shopping," suggesting that earlier discounting (starting at Halloween, at some stores), savvier sale shoppers, and different reactions to the improving economic picture — beneficiaries of the recovery don't need to brave lines for discounts, people still struggling are spreading out their shopping — had darkened Black Friday sales. The solution: More sales. "Every day will be Black Friday," Shay told The Associated Press. "Every minute will be Cyber Monday."

In a separate survey, research firm ShopperTrak said that a 24 percent jump in Thanksgiving Day sales almost offset a 7 percent drop in Black Friday sales, but not quite, with overall two-day sales down half a percent. Some people may look at those figures and decide that opening stores on Thanksgiving evening isn't worth the cost to employees. Shay seems to draw a different morale. "It's going to be a dogfight for the entire season every day, every minute," he tells The New York Times. "Holiday sales are now a marathon, not a sprint." Cheers.