The odds are you are shopping this weekend.
An estimated 165 million Americans will shop between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday, according to the National Retail Federation. That includes 39.6 million who said they were considering shopping on Thanksgiving Day, 114.6 million on Black Friday, 66.6 million on Small Business Saturday and 33.3 million on Sunday. On Cyber Monday, 68.7 million are expected to take advantage of online bargains.
To put that into context, the total number of votes cast in the 2016 presidential contest amounted to 136.6 million.
But like voting, shopping has changed dramatically over the last few years. Black Friday is no longer really the beginning of holiday shopping or holiday bargains. Many of the biggest retailers introduced steep discounts at the start of November. And like early voting, early shopping is growing. The National Retail Federation said recently 56% of shoppers had begun gift buying in the first week of November. Twenty-four percent had already completed their shopping.
That takes away some of the sting for retailers from the fact that this will be the shortest post-Thanksgiving shopping season in years, with six fewer days between our turkey-laden feast and Christmas. Retailers do not need the kind of shenanigans deployed by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1938, when the president moved Thanksgiving from the fourth to the third Thursday in November in hopes that a longer shopping season would boost the bottom lines of American businesses. (The move was unpopular and not as effective as hoped and after a few years, FDR moved it back to the fourth Thursday.)
The longer shopping season inexorable rise of online shopping also means that it is harder to judge the strength of consumer spending based on older metrics like mall and department store foot traffic, lines outside of big box stores, and parking lot vacancies. Many of the biggest retailers–including Walmart and Target–now have very popular online stores that compete with Amazon on both prices and convenience. There’s far less reason to wait outside a store for an early opening–and less incentive to brawl with other customers for a limited stock of sale items.
Sales between November and December are expected to increase between 3.8 percent and 4.2 percent compared with last year despite the 18 percent drop in the number of days of the old-school Thanksgiving to Christmas holiday shopping, according to the National Retail Federation. That would put us above the 3.7 percent average annual sales growth over the previous five years and well above the disappointing 2.1 percent growth during the recession scare and volatile stock market last year.
The retail group said it expects online and other non-store sales to increase between 11 percent and 14 percent for the holiday period.
Consumer optimism is running high, unemployment is low, wages are rising and rising fastest at the bottom on the income ladder, and many workers are confident they could find a new job at good pay if they lost their current jobs. All of these factors are likely to boost consumer spending. What’s more, the personal saving rate has been higher this year than in the recent past, indicating that consumers may have more to spend if merchants to convince them to part with some of their saving.