Just a few minutes ago, I was reading a piece at the WSJ site that attempts to get a handle on how retail sales went across the country on Black Friday, and over the weekend. (Short version: Better than expected, but a lot of that was the loss-leader items on Friday, and once folks bought those up, sales slowed.)
That’s a hard thing to get a grip on. But it occurs to me that it would be interesting to enlist you blog readers in a reporting effort. And what better time to do it than on Cyber Monday? We know that one piece of the economic crisis is the reduction in consumer confidence — and, more substantially, in consumer spending. Hank Paulson a couple of weeks back starting emphasizing that at the expense of bailing out Wall Street.
Everyone expects this holiday season to be a bummer for the consumer economy, so let’s see if we can gauge, through our own experiences, how that’s going.
I’ll kick it off with some of my own purely anecdotal observations:
- I started thinking about this weekend before last. It was the weekend after Circuit City had filed for bankruptcy and Best Buy had "sent a shiver through the retail and financial markets Wednesday as it
sharply reduced its profit forecast due to plummeting sales." I was at Best Buy — the new one near Lexington — picking up my first Chrismas gift of the season. It was about 6 or 6:30 p.m. on a Sunday. I didn’t have to wait in line, so it occurred to me to ask the clerk whether they had been busy earlier in the weekend. He said they had. But you couldn’t tell by me. We also went to Lowe’s (the one closer to I-26) to pick up a couple of things and to look at charcoal grills, and I pointed out one to the wife that I would like very much to have.
- On Thanksgiving, my kids who were in town and I were over at my parents house, and after dinner there was a good bit of looking through the ads in that day’s paper and discussion about who planned to shop Friday and who did not (I did not, since I had to work), which I’m sure would have pleased the folks down in advertising. One of my daughters, evidently shopping for things Dad might want, kept pointing things out in a neutral sort of way and asking what I thought. One idea stuck with me, and I later mentioned it to my wife (I didn’t want my daughter spending that kind of money on me). It was a loss-leader "door-buster" USB turntable — you know, a thing for turning all my old vinyl albums into MP3s — at J.C. Penney. It was $78.88, I think. Unfortunately, by the time I found the ad again and showed it my wife, I realized it was bit late for a "door-buster" price. Anyway, I’m worried that talking about that may have put the grill out of her mind, which would be a tactical error on my part.
- Then we went back to Alice’s and had another Thanksgiving dinner that couldn’t be beat… no wait; wrong story… (But I did get to hear that part on the radio later that evening.)
- Yesterday, the wife and I did a full-bore Harbison run starting around 3:30 p.m., and I’m sorry to report it was way easier than it would have been if retail were booming. (It WAS raining, of course.) We went to Verizon first, because she had left her phone charger in Memphis, where she had visited her Dad for Thanksgiving. We had perhaps the shortest wait I’ve ever had there — not even long enough to browse. We then hit the mall itself, and there were large swaths of parking lot empty. It was bustling, but not Christmas-season bustling. Long line at Starbucks, but that’s always the case at that Starbucks. My wife stopped at several kids-clothing shops looking for Christmas outfits for the twins, which struck me as impractical, but anything in the name of boosting the economy. She was disappointed not to find more bargains, except at Sears, where she made a purchase. Hot Topic didn’t have the thing my youngest daughter had specifically requested, but the clerk (who may have set a Midlands record for body piercings on the face alone) suggested we look on-line. We then went to Ross, Marshall’s, T.J. Maxx (all places where at least one of my daughters likes to shop), Best Buy (where I found a Sony USB turntable was $164, but that’s not why I was there), Publix, and home.
- At home, I spent a good bit of time trying to find the item we couldn’t get at Hot Topic. I found it at the chain’s Web site, but then spent a bunch of time trying to find something my daughter might like just as much, but which I would not find as objectionable. Most of what I found, unfortunately, was in the UK rather than here at home, and I wasn’t sure how to negotiate pounds when I have dollars in my debit card account.
Anyway, that’s for starters. What do y’all have to contribute? I’d particularly like to hear from our own resident retailer, James D. McCallister. In fact, I might check to see whether he can get that item I’ve been searching the Web for…