As many as 138 million U.S. shoppers could be hunting for Black Friday bargains during the three days after Thanksgiving, a slight increase over last year's projections, according to a retail trade group survey released on Thursday.
Nearly 60 million Americans plan to hit the stores, more than last year's forecast of 57 million, while an additional 78 million might join the crowds of shoppers this year if the bargains are good enough, the National Retail Federation said.
The total number of possible shoppers is 4 million more than forecast last year, when the NRF forecast up to 134 million Americans would be out shopping over the three-day weekend.
The group does a follow-up survey to ascertain how many of those consumers actually did shop over the weekend, but it includes shoppers on Thanksgiving day.
Black Friday, which falls on Nov. 26, is a key date for retailers, representing the traditional post-Thanksgiving kickoff to the holiday shopping season. Some store chains make up to one-third of annual sales during the November-December period, but many fear that sales this year will be threatened by a weak economy and high unemployment.
Retailers from Macy's Inc (M.N) to Best Buy Co Inc (BBY.N) try to lure shoppers through "door-buster" deals offering low prices on coveted gifts and the deals continue through the weekend. This year, Wal-Mart Stores Inc (WMT.N) will sell Emerson high-definition TVs for $198 and Kodak digital cameras for $59 on Black Friday, as well as offering free shipping during the season in a threat to Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O).
The higher turnout expected for the Black Friday weekend supports an earlier NRF forecast of a 2.3 percent increase in sales in November and December, compared with a 0.4 percent increase in 2009. In 2008, during the worst financial crisis in decades, sales fell by 3.9 percent.
ICSC SEES PENT-UP DEMAND
A separate poll this week found that 31 percent of households plan to shop on Black Friday, up from 26 percent a year ago.
The Saturday and Sunday after Thanksgiving should be even busier, with 37 percent of households expecting to shop, according to the survey from the International Council of Shopping Centers.
Pent-up demand could drive shopping over the weekend. The ICSC survey found that consumers had completed only 15.7 percent of their holiday purchases by Nov. 12-14, compared with 20.5 percent at the same time in 2009 and 28.3 percent in 2008.
The widely-expected uptick in shopping this year is welcomed by retailers, but they remain wary, leaving little to chance in their fight for holiday sales. Knowing consumers are still hesitant to spend and are looking to save money, many are focused on increasing sales by poaching customers from their rivals.