Retail watch: How’s business, as of this Cyber Monday?

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…

8 thoughts on “Retail watch: How’s business, as of this Cyber Monday?

  1. bud

    Business at Dominos seems a bit off, but not drastically so. Carolina/Clemson game was busy but even with the rain not insanely so like last year. I haven’t been to the malls yet.

  2. Doug Ross

    Spent the holiday down at Hilton Head. Went to the Tanger Outlets on Friday afternoon. The place was packed but I did not get the sense there were as many buyers as there were shoppers. Spent most of our money in one store to upgrade my rapidly growing son’s wardrobe so that he’d have pants that fit.
    I took care of 75% of my other son’s Christmas with a half dozen clicks on Amazon last night.
    Definitely will be cutting back on the presents this year. Got to get to work on my popsicle stick napkin holders…

  3. James D McCallister

    Retail report from the trenches, though from my perspective far from the madd(en)ing Black Friday throngs, some febrile enough to actually trample a living human being to death. . .
    A neighborhood like Five Points maintains a high degree of individuality and integrity by lacking big box retailers, using what are called loss leaders(1) to inspire the kind of frenzied crowds willing to wait all night in freezing weather in order save $XXX on 2008’s Electronic Widget of the Moment(2).
    So, yes, our eclectic group of shops is busy on the day after Thanksgiving, but not until later in the day, and even then not as much as we might once have been here in the city, prior to the explosive exurban growth of the last ten or fifteen years (which happens to dovetail neatly with the length of time Loose Lucy’s has been in business, providing a solid set of albeit narrowly-focused data to correlate with the trend of suburban growth.) As a rule, local people don’t think of downtown as a shopping destination like they once might have, and this holds true even during the supposed busy season.
    The remainder of the holiday weekend’s sales have been trending soft for the last few years as well. Impacting my ability to judge consumer habits from the last few years, however, are skewed data due to the streetscaping construction years of 2004-07. Furthermore, and I hate to be a sports curmudgeon, but holding the Carolina-Clemson game on the Saturday after turkey day (or in my case, tofurkey) really kills that afternoon for us. Let’s get it back to the weekend before, USC.
    What’s the other big factor for 2008’s first weekend of the buying season? Weather. Icy rain bad for business in an outdoor strolling neighb like the Points. Economic jitters will most certainly affect business this year, but when the other extraneous forces are factored in like foul weather, it’s hard to judge how much less people are spending, and especially not until the end of the year. For years now I’ve seen the Thanksgiving weekend meaning less and less, the bountiful sales all coming in the last 7-10 days.
    Owning a small retail business like mine can be a gutwrenching experiencing, never more so than the this period leading up to those days, which (knocks wood) have almost always come through, even when there was a backhoe and a big hole outside my front door.
    Happy holidays, all. Do try to keep Five Points and other downtown businesses on your list of must-visit shopping destinations.
    1 An item being sold at or sometimes even below cost in order to generate traffic and (presumably) drive sales of other items with a normal margin of profit.
    2 I’ve never been a participant(2A) in one of those doorbuster mob scenes, but having had a temporary, holiday only store at one of the outlying malls, I’ve eyeballed these huddled masses of hardy consumers, and acknowledged with a grudging hat-tip their wherewithal and tenacity.
    2A: But I hope Santa went out and got me one of those discounted Sony Blu-ray DVD thingies.

  4. Brad Warthen

    Alas, we are all corrupted in the end by HD television!
    Thanks for your report, James. It gives us an important perspective that will likely be missing in those national reports, obsessed with the big boxes as they are.
    And thanks to bud and Doug for sharing. Others?

  5. Herb Brasher

    I’m not much into shopping, but my wife is always finding the best deals on clothes for the grandkids at Kohls here in Lexington. She recently bought piles of outfits for infants and toddler at prices like 1 to 2 $ a piece–you know, 50% off regular price, plus 30% off day, plus an extra discount for seniors day. She charges it on her Kohl’s card to get all the discounts, and then turns right around on the spot and buys a Kohl’s gift card for the same amount and thus puts the whole bill on a credit card, which we pay off in full at the end of the month. That way we don’t have a bunch of different charge card accounts.
    I did spend a good portion of the weekend trying to get a good deal on a laptop for a family member, without having to camp out at Office Depot or Best Buy, and I think I almost did just as well on the Web as I would have done waiting in a parking lot all night. Except that while I was trying to clear up a false promise that Best Buy made on the phone, I saw the deal I wanted suddenly appear on Office Depot, but I didn’t want to push the button until I got the cancellation confirmation from Best Buy. Roadrunner collapsed on me, though, and by the time I got back on-line, the deal was over at Office Depot, and I had to settle for second best. I should have ordered both, and sent one of them back.
    Has anyone else had problems with Roadrunner cutting back on speed? It’s affecting my modem, and I think they are doing it intentionally.

  6. Herb Brasher

    By the way, if you want a guy who really knows his stuff and is good to work with, go to the new Verizon store in Lexington and ask for the head guy (he’s usually there in the afternoon and evening). Very few of these people can really answer tough questions, but he knows the ropes on everything, including Canada plans, etc., and he isn’t pushy, even though he obviously works on commission.

  7. Lee Muller

    Initial reports show retail sales were up 3.0 percent over last year’s Friday and Saturday sales.
    I know every firearms retail store in the state was cleaned out. Sales have been running about 380,000 extra background checks per week since Obama was nominated (which does not include those with CCW permits), and the sales tax holiday attracted buyers from Georgia and North Carolina.
    The helplessness of the unarmed Indians and their unarmed police in Mumbai should serve as a stark reminder to those who scoff at the armed citizens of America.

  8. Lee Muller

    Back on topic, Obama’s spending spree ideas now totals $4 TRILLION, on top of the $1.2 TRILLION deficit run up by Democrats to cover their mortgage loan scandal.
    It didn’t work for FDR, and it won’t work for Obama. Just as FDR’s socialism prolonged the Depression, these economic bailouts and stimulus packages will plunge the US into a long recession.
    The only things that will work are what Democrats and other socialists cannot abide: deep tax cuts and removal of senseless regulations, so American business can plan for long term investment.
    Instead, Democrats are proposing confiscation of 401-k accounts, IRAs, Keogh and SEP plans to finance their massive transfers of wealth from working people to failed banks, failed corporations, and failed state governments.

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