Economy Watch: Black Friday Retail Sales Down, Portable Device-Based Sales Robust

What does this year's Black Friday mean for the owners and managers of retail properties?

What does this year’s Black Friday mean for the owners and managers of retail properties? Sales were down, so it could be that retailers need to do more than open at midnight on that Friday, or a few hours before on Thanksgiving itself, to attract people into stores. Though the Friday after Thanksgiving had long been known as a strong one for retailers, Black Friday sales gimmicks started in earnest in the 2000s, and worked fairly well in the pre-smart phone days. Now it seems like the wind is out of the sails of that strategy, and some retailers are even shying away from Thanksgiving Day selling (a more recent practice devised to expand Black Friday). Major retailers Barnes & Noble, DSW, Nordstrom, Staples and T.J. Maxx were closed on Thanksgiving this year.

As early as the Sunday after Thanksgiving, Black Friday sales data started coming in. According to ShopperTrak, its preliminary sales estimate for brick-and-mortar retail on Thanksgiving Day (Nov. 26) and Black Friday (Nov. 27) together was $12.1 billion, which is down from $13.6 billion during the same two days in 2014. Thanksgiving Day, only recently a day for any retail sales at all, grossed an estimated $1.8 billion in sales this year, down from $2 billion last year, while Black Friday saw estimated $10.4 billion in sales, down from $11.6 billion in 2014. ShopperTrak tracks sales volumes at its 1,200 members, including retailers and malls, but not e-commerce sites.

Meanwhile, e-commerce revenue was up 16.1 percent on Black Friday compared with last year, with orders growing by 15.6 percent year-over-year, according to Custora E-Commerce Pulse, which tracks online sales and the devices that consumers use to facilitate those sales. This year, 36.1 percent of Black Friday online sales were placed on mobile devices (phones or tablets), up from 30.3 percent in 2014. Custora is a platform that derives its data from over 500 million anonymized shoppers, $100 billion in e-commerce revenue, and more than 200 online retailers.

Online sales for this Cyber Monday—a marketing occasion invented 10 years ago by the National Retail Federation when that organization noticed a bump up in online sales on the day after the Thanksgiving weekend was over—will total over $3 billion for the first time, predicted the digital marketing firm Adobe Systems Inc. If so, that would be a 12 percent increase from the same day in 2014. But Cyber Monday is no ordinary sales occasion: consumers tend to focus on just a handful of the products available online, including computers, televisions, phones, video games and other electronics, along with gift cards and toys. That trend is fair warning especially to electronics stores and their landlords: figure out how to get customers in stores, or risk going the way of video stores.