Post-Black Friday Traffic Slow, but Normal

Compared with the din of Black Friday, this month's retail traffic simmered down, but retailers still aren't pushing the panic button.

Compared with the din of Black Friday, this month’s retail traffic simmered down, but retailers still aren’t pushing the panic button.

This story first appeared in the December 4, 2007 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

“It started out slower,” said one Eastern department store principal, referring to last weekend.

Most apparel has been tanking, though contemporary sportswear as well as accessories, shoes, coats, cold-weather accessories, dresses and men’s furnishings are selling, according to retailers contacted Monday.

Typically, there’s a decline in mall traffic right after the brouhaha of Black Friday weekend. This year was no exception. “There has been a lull, but I don’t think it’s any more pronounced than last year,” said the store principal. “Consumers have indicated they will take a breather. They know there is an extra day and a half in the calender and will scale back in the early weeks of December, but I still believe they will come out in the last few weeks leading up to Christmas. It will be a good season, not a great one.”

Last week, major chains were buoyed by price promoting; colder weather and pent-up demand for coats, hats, gloves and scarves; flat-screen TVs and video game consoles; tourism in New York and other vacation destinations such as Las Vegas and south Florida, and the Internet. While brick-and-mortar stores are in a lull, “It’s quite the opposite online,” said Andrew Lipsman, senior analyst at comScore Inc. “Online spending continues to build over the next few weeks and peaks in mid-December,” around the 13th.

The pattern is a function of shipping and receiving dates for gifts to arrive in time for the holiday and when free shipping is offered. “It’s fair to say [the Internet] has some mitigating impact on retailers overall” this time of year, Lipsman added. “But I don’t know how much.

“Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the busiest in terms of ordering,” he said, explaining that people order a lot online while at work and tend to spend more hours in the office from Monday to Wednesday, as opposed to Thursday and Friday.

“We had a strong and very encouraging week,” said Michael Gould, Bloomingdale’s chairman and chief executive officer.

“Coats, cold-weather categories and jewelry are leading the charge,” said Jane Elfers, president and ceo of Lord & Taylor. She also cited Uggs, special occasion and cocktail party dresses as among the best-selling categories.

While places such as Miami and Aventura saw good mall traffic, retailers pointed out the rest of Florida was difficult. That was true of much of California, as well, aside from affluent areas like Rodeo Drive, and South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa.

At Abercrombie & Fitch, “We are continuing to sell merchandise at full price, which is contrary to what we are seeing at our competition in the malls,” said Tom Lennox, vice president of communications.

However, one major specialty chain reported that last week was flattish, pulled down by a disappointing Saturday, which can be a huge volume day, twice as big as preceding days of the week. “Nobody knows what’s going to happen in December,” said one executive at the company, who requested anonymity.

Despite gloomy economic forecasts predicting decelerating consumer spending, major chains on Thursday are expected to post decent sales results for last month, fueling some hope for the holiday season.

“We are expecting a 2.9 percent comp in November [slightly above consensus], inflated by an estimated 1 percent due to a calendar shift that some large retailers such as Target and J.C. Penney do not adjust for,” Todd Slater, managing director and specialty retail, apparel and footwear analyst at Lazard Capital Markets, said in a report Monday. “On an adjusted basis, we estimate the comp trend would have been about +1.9 percent, better than October [up 1.2 percent] and September [up 0.9 percent].

“The outperformers are expected to be the value group [+3.5 percent] and luxury retailers [+5.5 percent], illustrating that consumers are trading down to value, discretionary purchases continue to take a backseat to consumables and the high end of the market is more immune.”

Analysts cited Saks Fifth Avenue, Apple and Target for having comps that stand out favorably.