Millions of American shoppers returned to shop and spend at retail stores over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, as foot traffic rose 61 percent compared to last year, according to RetailNext, but still below pre-pandemic numbers.
Though sales have rebounded from the 2020 pandemic sales slump, Black Friday traffic at brick and mortar stores this year is 28.3 percent lower compared with 2019.
“It’s clear shoppers are shopping earlier this season, just as they did last season,” said Brian Field, the senior director of global retail consulting at Sensormatic Solutions, told CNBC. He believes that shoppers are still concerned about new COVID-19 variants and product shortages in the supply chain.
Online retail had dropped $0.9 billion compared to 2019, with $8.9 billion in sales this weekend, according to data from Adobe Analytics. Online performance for Amazon brands this year seems to be underwhelming compared with the bumper 2020 sale event, according to Forbes.
Many retailers offered fewer and smaller discounts to consumers this year by ending the popular tradition of opening stores on Thanksgiving evening and Black Friday morning sales, which previously drew hordes of shoppers pre-pandemic. Major retailers including Target, Walmart, and Best Buy were among those opting to keep their doors closed to customers.
The new strategy encouraging consumers into buying early has led to the uptick in Black Friday sales, according to analysts.
With many Americans back in the workforce, more consumers have the confidence to spend. Household spending rose 1.3 percent in October from a month earlier with personal income increasing 0.5 percent, said the Commerce Department. Consumers spending is now at a faster pace than inflation, which recently hit a three-decade high.
Retailers have been nudging shoppers to make purchases before the Christmas shopping season, as supply chain problems and lingering worker shortages endanger the supply of their favorite items.
The National Retail Federation, a trade group, said that 61 percent of consumers surveyed had started their holiday shopping before Thanksgiving, up from 51 percent a decade ago.
The NRF released an optimistic report that U.S. retail sales during November and December would “grow between 8.5 percent and 10.5 percent over 2020 to between $843.4 billion and $859 billion.”
However, the recent Nov. 26 WHO announcement of a new COVID-19 variant in Southern Africa may throw off some of those estimates, as new travel restrictions and other worldwide curbs may follow.
Field doubts that the new COVID variant will any impact on consumers’ future behavior. “If you start seeing outbreaks in the U.S., the thing that I think would drive [traffic down] would be if governments and communities start locking down again,” said Field. “Otherwise, I think the trends will be very similar to what we expect them to be.”