I believe that the key to this economy is the retail shopper. Consumer sending, after all, in a normal year, represents over 2/3rds of the business activity in the nation.
But this year you can feel a decided cooling in the normally hottest time of the year for sales: This Holiday Shopping time. Friday traditionally began the big consumer shopping spree, with Black Friday.
As I understood the term, it was the time of the year, when stores and shops could rely on a major influx of buyers to make their income statements profitable. In other words to put them in the “Black.”
But this year's Black Friday began on a tepid note, with many, if not most Retailers cutting back on their store hours. Whereas many stores had opened last year on Thursday night, I can find none that did that this year. Most opened on regular store hours on Friday. And even then the Wall Street Journal estimates that shopping volumes were down about 50%.
And the reason for this drop in in-store sales is readily apparent. The economic lockdown, social distancing, and other draconian policies of many of the Governors. Policies that have been put in place to curtail the spread of the Covid 19 Virus. Even though there is a growing body of scientists who no longer feel that these policies are effective.
Nonetheless many of the retailers must deal with these restrictions, such as in-store distancing, the wearing of masks, and the limiting of the number of customers who are allowed in the store. So of course, shopping volumes are down.
It is a logical result of largely State Government's new Covid LockDown Policies. For investors, it looks like the result will be that many of the major retail companies are declining to publish their normal guidance reports.
Best Buy, for instance, is on record as saying that they will not project their anticipated sales figures for this final quarter of the year. Retailers simply have no idea where this will all lead.
If there is one truly bright spot in all this, it should come today. Or more closely, it should be reflected in today's sales numbers. Today, as you may know, is Cyber Monday. Since 2005 it has been the day when online retailers have had an opportunity to take center stage and offer buyers special deals.
The thinking was that while most shoppers spend the past weekend at the Mall, On the Monday following that big shopping spree, any items that remained on their Christmas list could be purchased online today.
This year that extra promotion is hardly necessary. Shoppers are already online. In fact, while in person sales are down an estimated 50%, online sales are up by 22%. There seems to be little doubt that people would rather shop at home.
Consequently, online sales are enjoying their best year ever. Inline to beat even last year's record numbers when online sales were up by 26%.And perhaps that's just the shot in the arm that this economy needs.
If you look back at the retail sales numbers for the economy this year, it reads like a dime novel. With the heroine first falling into a terrible predicament, only to be rescued by the hero in the end. Sales this year started out at all-time record levels with 529 billion in monthly sales. By April, the worst of all the month's sales dropped 22% from that record. Only to stage an incredible rally, and surpass the record sales levels by June of this year. And from that point on it has been all retail.
The remarkable sector of the economy, that has really kept this ship on course. Until last month that is, when in October we saw sales increase drop below a 1% the gain for the first time this year. Sales were only up a half percent.
All of which puts more focus on what's happening right now. In the next couple of days, we will get the final sales figures for both the Black Friday, traditional retail sales numbers, and Cyber Monday, the online retailer's sales. On those two sets of data, lie much of what Wall Street will estimate for the rest of the year.
Keep your eye on Retail..