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Black Friday not holiday bellwether it once was

December 31, 2014

With the 2014 holiday sales season spread out longer, Black Friday was no longer the bellwether for holiday sales it once was.

Analysts offered a variety of numbers for the weekend, some showing sales increases, others showing decreases. The National Retail Federation reported that total projected sales were down 11 percent for the weekend, while spending over the entire holiday season will increase by 4.1 percent this year.

“The drop in consumer spending was not a matter of consumers pulling back, but consumers responding to a much longer, heavily promoted and discounted holiday spending season that begins almost as soon as the Halloween costumes are returned to the attic,” said NRF SVP Bill Thorne. “Consumer spending for holiday gifts starts earlier and ends later as the post-recession consumer seeks the best deals at the price point they want to pay. Further, as mobile use continues to grow and online retailers become more competitive, the need to fight crowds in order to get the best deals becomes less important.”

The reported Black Friday sales decrease “isn’t an accurate representation of the entire universe of holiday sales, it’s only a slice of the pie,” said Greg Maloney, Americas retail CEO for third-party mall manager JLL. “Many retailers started their promotions as early as Wednesday, and we found across our portfolio of shopping centers that retailers who opened on Thanksgiving traded Black Friday morning sales for Thursday evening sales.” While Black Friday remains critical for retailers, it started losing its luster as the day for holiday shopping nearly a decade ago, Maloney says. “Spending is expanding beyond a single day or weekend, and I anticipate that retailers’ emphasis on maximizing holiday profits and promotions will spread out even further next year; we may see the season ramp up as early as November 1.”

Former Apple CEO John Sculley told CNBC that focusing on sales from a single day or weekend is the wrong way to think about holiday retail today. “What you’ve got to think about is a selling season where 40 percent of sales of big retailers take place in the last two months of the year,” he said. “Trying to nail it on a particular day doesn’t make sense anymore.”

The CEO of Big Lots is regretting his company’s decision to open on Thanksgiving Day this year. “I’ll be the first to say as a retailer of 35 years [that] the industry made a bad move by doing what we did, extending hours on Thursday,” David Campisi said on an earnings call. “We’ve taken the wind out of what was once a sense of urgency. There were no lines out there at any retailer at 4 or 5 or 6 a.m. on Friday.”