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NRF: Holiday Season Off to ‘Energetic Start'

December 2, 2008
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Maybe it won’t be all gloom and doom for retailers this holiday season after all. According to the National Retail Federation’s (NRF) “2008 Black Friday Weekend Survey” (conducted by BIGresearch of Worthington, Ohio), more than 172 million shoppers visited stores and Web sites over Black Friday weekend, up from 147 million shoppers last year. Moreover, shoppers spent an average of $372.57 during that weekend, up 7.2 percent from last year’s average, the Washington, D.C.-based association said.

“Pent-up demand on electronics and clothing, plus unparalleled bargains on this season’s hottest items, helped drive shopping all weekend,” said NRF President and CEO Tracy Mullin. “Holiday sales are not expected to continue at this brisk pace, but it is encouraging that Americans seem excited to go shopping again.”

Although retailers in all categories were featuring big bargains, a majority of shoppers visited discount stores for holiday deals, NRF said. In fact, the survey found that 54.7 percent of the weekend’s shoppers visited discount stores.

Gift card purchases were down 10 percent over last year’s sales, NRF also noted.

On a side note, the Washington, D.C.-based National Restaurant Association (NRA) noted that the Restaurant Performance Index posted a small - 0.4 percent - gain in October from September’s record low of 96.7, indicating “a modest uptick in operator optimism.” But the slight gain is unlikely to adversely impact the retail grocery sector anytime soon.

“The Current Situation indicators remained weak, however, with a solid majority of restaurant operators reporting declines in both same-store sales and customer traffic,” said Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of research and information services for the association. “Not surprisingly, a record 44 percent of operators said the economy is the number-one challenge currently facing their business.”

Our Take: The U.S. recession now is “official” (the National Bureau of Economic Research said its business cycle dating committee members concluded that the U.S. economy actually slipped into recession in December 2007). Most consumers - at least those who are still employed - will still be willing to spend money, but with some trepidation. Value, a private label strength, will continue to be the most important attractor during the holiday season and the difficult months that follow.

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