November 26, 2011 in Nation/World

Holiday season has strong kickoff

Retail analysts impressed by early signs
Shan Li Los Angeles Times
 
Associated Press photo

A consumer rests herself and her bags in New York’s Herald Square on Friday during the busiest shopping day of the year.
(Full-size photo)

An early kickoff to the holiday shopping season appeared to pay off for retailers, who bet correctly that extended late-night hours would draw even more bargain hunters to the annual Black Friday extravaganza.

The shopping frenzy, although marred by a pepper spray incident in Southern California, bodes well for increased consumer spending as the year draws to a close. It would be the latest in a series of modest improvements to an economy still trying to shake free from the lingering effects of the devastating recession of 2007-09.

“People have had so many years of recession that they want to spend money and feel good about themselves,” said Ron Friedman, a retail expert at advisory and accounting firm Marcum in Los Angeles. “And many people have set money aside and are paying off their credit cards more, so people can spend a little bit more than last year.”

This is a make-or-break season for retailers, and they pulled out the stops. Wal-Mart rolled out some of its sale items to shoppers at 10 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. Other major chains including Target, Best Buy, Macy’s and Kohl’s all opened at midnight for the first time.

At times, shoppers battled for bargains. Several brawls were reported, including at the Wal-Mart in the San Fernando Valley community of Porter Ranch – where police say a woman jostling other shoppers for an Xbox game console pulled out a can of pepper spray to ward off rivals.

At least 10 people required treatment after the incident, which occurred just after 10 p.m. Thursday, said Detective Gus Villanueva of the Los Angeles Police Department. Police are looking for the woman, who is believed to be in her 30s, 5-foot-3 and about 140 pounds.

Drama aside, early signs pointed to a healthy kickoff to the holiday shopping season.

Although it was too soon to tell definitively whether Black Friday was a success, several retail analysts said they expected sales to be up based on the turnout they saw.

“I think Black Friday bodes pretty well for the holiday season,” said Ken Perkins of research firm Retail Metrics Inc., who was out at several malls in the Boston area. “The traffic levels were pretty good, especially in the middle of the night, and that should project well for the rest of the holiday season.”

Jackie Fernandez, a retail partner at the accounting firm Deloitte & Touche, was at the Glendale Galleria in Glendale, Calif., on Friday and liked what she saw.

“The real question mark is whether this phenomenon will continue into the weekend and afterward, or if it will just trail off,” she said.

The National Retail Federation has estimated that holiday sales will increase to $465.6 billion this year, up about 2.8 percent compared with the previous year. It will release its estimate of Black Friday weekend sales on Sunday.

According to a Gallup survey, consumers say they will spend an average of $764 for the holidays this year, up 7 percent from what they estimated at this time last year.

Retailers often make 25 percent to 40 percent of their annual sales during the last two months of the year. Although Black Friday may be over, expect more sales and promotions in the weeks to come.

“We’ll have deals every day from now through the rest of the holidays for customers looking for deals,” said Neil Friedman, president of Toys R Us in the U.S. “We can fit any family’s budget.”

Target executive Cary Strouse indicated that it’s going to be a “very competitive” environment, which will be good news for consumers.

“We will certainly be in the game, making sure Target is the place for guests to shop,” said Strouse, senior vice president of Target’s West region, which includes California.


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