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Black Friday Weekend: Strong Start, But Then Worries Start

By David Moin with contributions from Jean E. Palmieri

Retailers have been on a high through the fall and the holiday season so far, though the weeks ahead seem uncertain.

What a difference a day can make.
Riding third•quarter momentum and with store traffic on the rise, Black Friday sales results were strong, supporting expectations for healthy holiday gains. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade also elevated holiday spirits since crowds could come out and watch in person, after being unable to last year due to COVID-19.

But since then, an undercurrent of concern has emerged. Several retailers and industry experts contacted Sunday seemed worried that if the new Omicron coronavirus variant spreads, it could impact the consumer psyche and dampen holiday spending. Speculation on the new variant drove the stock market down 1,000 points on Friday.

On a more immediate basis, concerns that smash-and-grab robberies last week hitting Nordstrom, Louis Vuitton, Bloomingdale’s and other stores primarily on the West Coast would discourage visits to stores this holiday season were also evident. Inflation, particularly higher gas and food prices, and stockouts have been concerns for months.

For the weekend, it seemed like a sudden uncertainty got mixed in with the optimism that has pervaded retailing for most of this year. Next week’s “lull” in sales, which always happens after Cyber Monday and lasts till about 10 days before Christmas, adds to the uncertainty.

It’s a question of how deep the lull gets. Business on Saturday was softer than expected and believed to be due to Friday’s strong turnout. Sources said it appeared more like a typical mid-November Saturday, in terms of sales and traffic, rather than a holiday weekend Saturday.
Fashion retailers said they had enough supply for the season, having ordered earlier in the year and having goods on reserve, though industry experts question whether there will be enough inventory in certain bestsellers to satisfy demand late in the season. . . .

. . . Consumers have been flush with cash due to higher wages and government subsidies, eager to replenish their own wardrobes while buying gifts, and more willing this season to pay full price, rather than wait for deals and risk stockouts.

Retailers were also aided by a drop in temperatures lifting sales of winter-related apparel and accessories. Services, notably buy online, pick up in store; buy now, pay later, and same-day delivery also factored into the positive results for the weekend. . . .

. . . The weather was colder through most of the country over the weekend, fueling sales of seasonal merchandise. “Winter apparel, blankets, hot food and drinks, heaters and firewood were all up significantly. It really comes down to being able to proactively allocate goods from a weather perspective, which this year would be very different than last year,” said Evan Gold, executive vice president of Planalytics.

In the New York City area, last weekend was in the low 40s on average, 11 degrees colder than last year. Chicago, which averaged 33 degrees during the weekend, was nine degrees colder than last year. A few inches of snow in places like Cleveland, Detroit and upstate New York “didn’t stop people from getting out. It puts them in more ofa holiday mind-set,” said Gold. . . .

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