Black Friday Bolsters Retail Sales

It was a great Thanksgiving weekend for U.S. retailers, with fewer shoppers spending more. According to The National Retail Federation, an estimated 140 million people hit the stores and shopped online over the past four days, down about 5 million from last year. And Black Friday, which starts the holiday season for retailers, drew about 58.9 million people, down more than 1 million.

A similar pattern was observed on the Web. While Nielsen/NetRatings reports that 19.2 million Americans visited more than 120 online retail stores on Black Friday, up from 17.2 million in 2005, but that’s significantly below a 29 percent growth in overall traffic to online retail stores from 2004 to 2005.

But with all of this spending, retailers are still concerned about consumer confidence. Considering that November sales were down by 0.1 per cent on the same month last year for Wal-Mart, the world’s biggest retailer, gives some pause. It was only the second time in 27 years that Wal-Mart reported a fall in sales, and it was also the retailer’s worst performance in more than 10 years.

Is Wal-Mart truly the bellwether for the entire retail industry? Should retailers have concern about Christmas spending and year-end sales given Wal-Mart’s performance?