Monday, November 28, 2011

Black Friday Sales Results Look Good but Might Not Hold Their Eggnog Well

After a hectic Black Friday filled with crazy deals and even crazier customers, the tallies are in.

CNBC reports: “sales rose an estimated 6.6 percent to a record $11.4 billion on Black Friday… while the traffic at stores rose 5.1 percent, according to ShopperTrak.”

To the untrained eye, those numbers might very well seem to signal the dawning of a new season of shopping and consumerism set to conquer this weak economy once and for all. CNBC is certainly quick to invest in that misconception, casually mentioning, “As usual on Black Friday, retailers used deep discounts… to lure shoppers [in],” as if nothing other than holiday cheer – and Obama, of course – influenced those hefty sales.

But the real reason behind this season is far less joyful.

The truth is that consumers are hurting, and retailers know it. Which is why they went out of their way to slash prices ridiculously low.

Best Buy, for example, had 42” LCD HDTVs for just under $200. J.C. Penney offered luggage sets for under $40 when they’re normally well over $100, and Wal-Mart featured HP laptops for $248.

Sorry to say, but those bargains aren’t normal, even for Black Friday. Neither is the fact that Target opened up on Thanksgiving instead of early the next day, or that Kohl’s made it a Black Friday weekend instead of a single morning.

These are all signs of a weak economy, no matter how much stores made. And they might even indicate weaker consumer spending as we continue into the Christmas shopping season: The mad dash for bargains could be a sign that holiday gift-givers are keeping themselves on tight leashes this year.

On the bright side for investors and consumers alike, as I said before, retailers know that consumers are hurting. So they’re playing it safe with especially great buys and deep discounts that will keep customers happy and probably even make companies a profit in the end.

Just don’t think that any of that is a sign the economy is finally turning. As Georgia business owner Bill Looman advertises in his van window, he’s “not hiring until Obama is gone.”

And neither is anybody else.

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