With actual sales figures now starting to come in, retail sales trackers confirm that retailers got only a modest bump from all those Black Friday promotions before shoppers holstered their wallets.
"Black Friday proved to be a positive sales day for retailers, but overall it was a tough month as consumers held back until the end to shop," said Mike Niemira, chief economist for the International Council of Shopping Centers, which compiles a sales index based on what the nation's 37 biggest general merchandise chains report.
The index rose a scant 1.3 percent for the last week of November compared to 2007. Compared to the previous week, the sales index inched up only 0.1 percent. The performance was similar to results reported by ShopperTrak, which estimates sales based on foot traffic the firm's equipment counts going in the doors at 50,000 stores and malls. ShopperTrak estimated sales for the Black Friday holiday weekend were up 1.9 percent. Adjusted for inflation, all the results represented a sales decline.
ShopperTrak said the Black Friday traffic index showed the small increase in the big crowds of Friday evaporated the following day. Sales were boosted by people spending more on deeply discounted deals that retailers used to lure them out.
"We see sales levels continuing to slow this week as consumers remain home looking for additional (discounts) toward the end of the shortened 2008 holiday season," said Bill Martin, ShopperTrak president.
America's Research Group also estimated Black Friday crowds were thinner this year — off 2 percent in the morning, 10 percent in the afternoon — and dominated by bargain hunters.
Sears, for instance, sold 70,000 high-efficiency Kenmore washer/dryer sets at $600 each, twice what it expected.
"That had to be a world record for laundry appliances and proves Americans this year will smell out a great deal even if it's in the middle of a river," said Britt Beemer, president of America's Research Group. "Clearly, retailers are panicking because they've never dealt with this sort of consumer. We may be watching one of the biggest retail meltdowns ever."
Analysts expect similar sobering results from Cyber Monday, a day online retailers use to stimulate holiday business with deep discounts. Sales figures from the Web are scheduled to be released Thursday.
Mark Albright can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8252.