Holiday shopping season starts with a slump

Makayla Guerrero, 5, peers over at the sales flier her mother, Laura Morales, of Los Angeles, shows a Toys R Us cashier at the checkout lane to confirm a sale item on Friday

Makayla Guerrero, 5, peers over at the sales flier her mother, Laura Morales, of Los Angeles, shows a Toys R Us cashier at the checkout lane to confirm a sale item on Friday

(Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times)

Sales at retail stores dropped on Thanksgiving and Black Friday, a sign that more consumers opted to shop earlier and go online for holiday gifts.

Combined sales for those two days, which have traditionally kicked off the holiday shopping season, totaled about $12.1 billion, according to preliminary data from ShopperTrak. That’s down from $12.3 billion during the same period last year.

“What we’re seeing is some softness in the two days, which could be accounted for by early promotions,” ShopperTrak founder Bill Martin said.


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Increasingly, Black Friday has become a monthlong shopping extravaganza with retailers rolling out promotions right after Halloween ends.

This year, nearly 60% of consumers started holiday shopping before Thanksgiving, the highest proportion ever reported, according to the National Retail Federation, a trade group. That has pushed spending forward into the early weeks of November; the earlier opening times on Thanksgiving also pulled sales from Black Friday.

Shoppers spent an average of $299.60, with nearly $230 of that going toward gifts, the National Retail Federation survey said. The trade group said it overhauled its survey this year, and therefore the results could not be compared accurately with previous years.

The weekend of Thanksgiving is now “almost the second quarter going on halftime” for the holiday season, said Matthew Shay, president of the National Retail Federation. “Whereas once upon a time, this is when the game really started.”

The holiday season is crucial to retailers, which can make up to 40% of their annual sales during that time. The National Retail Federation forecasts that sales during November and December will climb 3.7% to $630.5 billion, slightly below the 4.1% growth in the same period last year.


The earlier deals are part of dramatic changes in how people shop, analysts said.

Consumers keen to avoid elbow-to-elbow crowds and jammed parking lots are increasingly turning to the Web.

More than 151 million people shopped from Thanksgiving Day through Sunday, with 102 million shoppers in stores and 103 million browsing via their laptops or mobile devices, the National Retail Federation said. About half of those surveyed said they would do their holiday buying online, up nearly 10 percentage points from five years ago.

Online sales on Thanksgiving and Black Friday totaled $4.5 billion, up 18% from a year ago, according to a report from Adobe.

Warm weather and some recent speed bumps in job growth have affected retail sales during the fall, economists said. Retail sales edged up only slightly in October after two flat months, according to the Commerce Department. But analysts said the holidays should still prove to be a decent if not blockbuster time for retailers.

Retail sales are growing at “a steady pace,” said Jack Kleinhenz, chief economist of the National Retail Federation. “Consumers are fairly resilient.”

Many consumers remain focused on discounts. A third of shoppers said that everything they purchased over Black Friday was on sale. And an additional 43% said they believe promotions after the Thanksgiving weekend will get even better.

The next big shopping day is Cyber Monday, which is also expected to be diluted by the early discounts and rise of 24/7 shopping. About 121 million people plan to shop online Monday, down from 126.9 million last year.

Twitter: @ByShanLi


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