Black Friday Gains, But Consumers Stay Nervous


The nation’s big chain retailers got some early holiday cheer from strong Black Friday weekend sales, but with several more weeks left before Christmas they still face a major challenge: Continuing to draw in nervous customers.

The International Council of Shopping Centers said Thursday that preliminary reports show a stronger-than-expected 5.8 percent gain in comparable-store sales for November, evidence that many Americans embraced Black Friday with renewed vigor.

Based on those results, the chain store trade group said it expected to raise its forecast for the holiday season slightly in coming days, from its current 3 percent to 3.5 percent sales growth for chain stores.

But not everyone is as optimistic, noting that many consumers remains nervous in the wake of a deep recession and weak economic recovery that have left millions unemployed.

The National Retail Federation said it is sticking to its 2.3 percent holiday growth forecast and said it's too early to upgrade it, and other analysts also were sticking to their original forecasts Thursday.

One reason: Survey after survey has shown that many consumers are hesitant to spend more this holiday season than they did last year, amid fears about where the economy is heading.

The latest poll on that topic, released Thursday by StrategyOne, found that about half of Americans are uncertain about the future and therefore plan to spend about the same this holiday season as they did last year. About 40 percent said the economy is “poor,” and about half said the economy is “fair.”

Related: Black Friday gives retailers a holiday boost

The vast majority of those surveyed by StrategyOne believe the nation is still in recession. The nation officially came out of recession in June 2009, although unemployment has remained extremely high and growth has been weak compared to other recoveries.

Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst with NPD group, said the holiday weekend sales would not change his forecast that holiday sales will grow just 0.5 to 1.5 percent this holiday season, as compared to last year. He said the early push would only make for a deeper lull between now and the last-minute surge of Christmas shoppers.

C. Britt Beemer, head of America’s Research Group, said this week that he expects retail sales to range between down 1 percent to up 1 percent, based on data showing that many people favored cash over credit cards during Black Friday shopping.

Beemer had earlier said he expected a very strong Black Friday but that that wouldn’t necessarily translate into a strong holiday season overall.

Still, some individual retailers appeared to be winning at least the early rounds of the battle for customer dollars.

Based on a strong November, Macy’s said it was raising its same-store sales forecast for the fourth quarter by half a percentage point, to between 3.5 percent and 4.5 percent, after a strong November. Same-store sales, which shows growth of stores open at least a year, are considered a key measure of a retailer’s health.

Nordstrom reported stronger-than-expected November sales as well, amid high demand for shoes and jewelry. J.C. Penney Co. also had stronger than anticipated results, driven by major Black Friday promotions and sales of shoes and men’s clothing.

Target said its same-store sales increased by 5.5 percent in November, as more people visited its stores.

“November sales were better than expected, driven by very strong guest traffic throughout the month," Gregg Steinhafel, Target's chairman, president and chief executive officer, said in a statement.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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