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Black Friday was great. What about the rest of the season?

Retailers breathed a collective sigh of relief when Black Friday turned out to be much stronger than forecast. According to the National Retail Federation’s (NRF’s) survey “2008 Black Friday Weekend,” more than 172 million shoppers visited stores and web sites over the weekend, compared to 147 million last year, and these shoppers spent on average 7.2 percent more than the prior year.

However, any retailer euphoria created by the weekend evaporated the following Monday (Dec. 1), when retail stocks plummeted. Investors were worried that the deep discounts offered by retailers would significantly hurt profits, and that sales would fall for the rest of the shopping season.

More data from the NRF seem to support that fear. Despite the encouraging Black Friday numbers, the NRF did not revise its holiday season forecast of 2.2 percent growth, the weakest prediction in six years.

Early present

Retailers in Mississippi generally report that Black Friday weekend did, indeed, surpass expectations. Cindy Childs, marketing director at The Mall at Barnes Crossing (MBC), said with a laugh, “Well, you’re always a little nervous on Black Friday, but this year was definitely different. We were concerned, but we were blessed.”

MBC opened at 3:45 a.m., and saw three shifts of shopping this year compared to two shifts before.

“We (had) the 3 a.m. to 9 a.m. customers, then the 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and the tertiary market customers who drive in for dinner and shopping,” said MBC manager Jeff Snyder, CSM. “The action has been continuous and traffic steady. Many mall retailers were on track and poised to meet or exceed (last year’s) figures.”

Ginger Adams, executive director of the Southaven Chamber of Commerce, said her members reported Black Friday sales somewhat off from last year, but still far better than forecasts.

“I’m hearing from my members that they were a little slower, but it was much better than the national media was predicting,” Adams said.

Black Friday was little darker for some areas of the state as a cold, drenching rain washed out the Friday after Thanksgiving. Then a strong, cold wind blew Saturday and into Sunday.

“I talked to a few business owners, and they were disappointed,” said Donna Williams, chamber director with the Economic Development Authority of Jones County. “They were way off.”

Williams quickly added that the inclement weather put a huge damper on traveling. Many stayed in, and she was hopeful that things would turn around.

“We’re an optimistic people here in Jones County,” Williams said. She added with a laugh, “I still have shopping to do. So, I’m confident more shoppers will be coming.”

Will it last?

Shoppers getting out post-Black Friday are going to be crucial to this year being a successful one. There are some concerns that Black Friday will be the peak of the holiday shopping season. Shoppers simply do not have the budget they did in prior years. The Black Friday shopper may not be back for the rest of the season, and sales will fall, industry experts worry.

Childs said MBC is optimistic that shoppers will keep coming into the mall. She added that MBC just recently added a children’s play area in the food court, and it has proven a great draw. She expects that and other promotions will keep the stores’ cash registers ringing.

Adams said she feels Southaven, too, will continue to pull shoppers because of two main advantages.

“People come from all over to shop here because of, one, safety — we’re a safe community — and, two, lower sales tax,” she said. “A lot of shoppers come from the metro Memphis area to take advantage of our safety and lower sales tax.”

Click and buy

If foot traffic is down, that might not mean retailers are suffering. This holiday season, retailers are banking on a steady stream of virtual shoppers. With a stronger than expected Black Friday behind them, retailers anxiously anticipated Cyber Monday, the ceremonial kickoff of the online holiday shopping season. Online sales are projected to be well up this year.

According to the eHoliday Survey from Shop.org, the Internet division of the NRF, nearly 84 percent of retailers were expected to offer special promotions on Cyber Monday, well up from last year (72.2 percent).

It appears these promotions are “drawing crowds.” Integra Telecom Inc., the Portland, Ore.-based telecommunications company that serves 11 western states, recorded an increase in business Internet traffic of 30 percent compared to the two prior weeks.

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at wally.northway@msbusiness.com.

About Wally Northway

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