NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Black Friday weekend traffic may have hit record numbers, but this didn't necessarily translate into a significant uptick in retail sales. Overall, 212 million shoppers visited stores and Web sites Thanksgiving weekend, up from 195 million last year, according to the National Retail Federation. But ShopperTrak said an increase in shoppers (it reported 2.2% growth in traffic on Black Friday proper) resulted in a mere 0.3% increase in sales to $10.69 billion from $10.66 billion in 2009 on Nov. 26. One of the predominant reasons for sluggish sales, it seems, is an earlier promotional push of pre-Black Friday deals in November, with the first two weeks of the month posting a 6.1% and 6.2% jump in sales, respectively, compared with the same time last year, according to ShopperTrak. "ShopperTrak
results may leave some investors in retail equities concerned on the potential for disappointment in the fourth-quarter financials for the sector," Wall Street Strategies analyst Brian Sozzi, wrote in a note. "At the very least, it may spark confusion on the part of investors as to the next move (buy more shares or dump) given the more optimistic data points from the NRF on Sunday afternoon. To all of this, I would say let's not write the holiday season off just yet or become overly bullish. High expectations are built into the associated equities and if the data is conflicting, a sell-off could open up opportunities." Of course, Black Friday tallies are mixed, with firms like Customer Growth Partners reporting an 8% surge in Black Friday weekend sales to $39 billion, while NRF estimates that total spending for the weekend reached $45 billion. Regardless of exact numbers, experts agreed on one thing: malls were packed, with checkout lines of 50 or more at some specialty stores, and big-box and high-end outlets seeing lines exceeding 400 shoppers, Craig Johnson, president at Customer Growth Partners, notes. By division, department stores and clothing retailers saw the biggest jumps in traffic, according to the NRF, while the number of shoppers at discounters declined 7.2% from 43.2% in 2009.
"We note, that, as usual, department stores like Macy's ( M) and J.C. Penney ( JCP) and broadline stores like Wal-Mart ( WMT), Target ( TGT), and Best Buy ( BBY) ran deep discounts on Black Friday and promoted heavily in the days leading up to Black Friday," Janney Capital Markets analyst Adrienne Tennant, wrote in a note. "Although we continue to observe signs of sales at these stores through our 'bag count,' we believe their conversions may have been more muted relative to the specialty space ... as we believe shoppers bee-lined for substantial promotions at specialty stores and may have forsaken the
others." The good news is that Black Friday weekend is no longer a make-or-break for retailers. With the hype of Black Friday over -- and Cyber Monday at the midway point -- the biggest challenge for retailers will be to maintain the sense of excitement without giving away gross margin dollars through excessive discounts, Stifel Nicolaus analyst Richard Jaffe, warns. Looking ahead to the remainder of the holiday season, analysts are predicting a lull in early December, as shoppers wait for more aggressive promotions in the weekend leading up to Christmas. While shoppers responded on Black Friday to early door buster promotions, Sozzi notes that there was a pause in spending once retailers scaled down promotions dramatically later in the day on Black Friday and the rest of the weekend. "Pauses have become synonymous during the consumer spending recovery in 2010, such as in the back-to-school season, where purchases were done when great deals were to be had," Sozzi wrote in a note. "One swallow does not a holiday season make," Johnson wrote in a note. "After the last two years of anemic holiday sales, the solid Black Friday weekend is welcome news -- but we're only in the second quarter of a long playoff game." While there's still nearly a month of shopping remaining until the Christmas holiday, Black Friday winners could set precedent for the remainder of the season. Here's a look at the retailers that are expected to have outperformed during the Black Friday weekend....
Abercrombie & Fitch
Abercrombie & Fitch was the Black Friday winner in the teen sector. On Black Friday, the namesake stores offered a $50 gift card for every $100 spent before 12 p.m., which is redeemable from Dec. 1 until Jan. 29. Hollister, which analysts have dubbed the busiest teen retailer in the mall, advertised 30% off the entire store until 12 p.m. "I personally had flashbacks to 2006 and 2007, watching lines extend out into the mall at both divisions," Sozzi notes. As a result, Janney Capital Markets added Abercrombie & Fitch to its "Best Ideas" List, citing the surge in traffic and conversion at all of its concepts. The Best Ideas List is designed to highlight companies that show both near- and long-term momentum. "Combined with our belief that the international and direct-to-consumer channels will continue to be accretive to consolidated operating margins, we believe that Abercrombie could see earnings upside through 2011," analyst Adrienne Tennant wrote in a note. Hollister's robust traffic is expected to have stolen market share from rival Aeropostale ( ARO), which has been struggling to retain its image as value-priced leader.
Urban Outfitters ( URBN) was able to drive substantial traffic to stores on Black Friday with possibly little impact to gross margins. The specialty retailer's only real promotion was 50% off sale items from 6 a.m. until 10 a.m. Even though this deal was less exciting than many other retailers at the mall, UBS noted that Urban Outfitters was "absolutely packed" and that lines seemed more crowded than last year. "Urban Outfitters, by far, had the most significant traffic in the mall on Black Friday among the specialty apparel retailers," Sozzi agreed. "That indicates to me that management has gotten a handle on the shift in fashion that has been mentioned on the last two earnings calls."
American Eagle Outfitters
American Eagle Outfitters ( AEO) stock was upgraded on Monday following its strong showing during the Black Friday weekend. Janney Capital Markets now rates the teen retailer a buy from neutral, citing strong Black Friday sales and tightly controlled inventory. "With inventory levels too high last year, we believe the far cleaner levels we are witnessing can drive significant merchandise margin improvement over last year for the next few quarter," Tennant wrote. Tennant also believes American Eagle may provide fourth-quarter outlook slightly about the 45 cents per share analysts predict. On Black Friday, American Eagle offered 25% off entire purchase and free shipping on its Web site, while in stores customers received 20% off their entire purchase until 2 p.m., which excluded hoodies and outerwear. The store was also passing out a coupon to extend the 20% off promotion until Nov. 29. Graphic tee's and jewelry were buy one get one 50% off.
While Black Friday isn't typically a high-traffic day for women's apparel retailers, AnnTaylor Stores ( ANN) was a standout among the group. On Black Friday the retailer offered 40% off entire purchases, as well as free shipping online on purchases of at least $150. It originally planned to run this promotion from midnight to noon on Black Friday, but then extended it for the entire weekend. "We wonder, however, if it was originally planned that way to create a sense of urgency to entice customers to come in earlier rather than later," analyst Jennifer Black, of the firm bearing her name, wrote in a note. Either way, Wall Street Strategies analyst Brian Sozzi said AnnTaylor's promotional cadence throughout the weekend at both its Loft chain and namesake stores, ran counter to what other retailers did elsewhere in the mall and likely made it a market-share gainer. Earlier in the month, AnnTaylor reported a surge in its third-quarter profit and offered an upbeat outlook for the holiday season. The company foresees sales approaching $500 million in the fourth quarter, with a mid-to-high single digit percentage increase in same-store sales this holiday.
With some of the best promotions at the mall, Gap ( GPS) could potentially report better-than-expected November sales results. The specialty retailer offered 50% off entire purchases until 10 a.m. and 40% off at Banana Republic. Its Old Navy chain also featured several price cuts. "This is the longest line we've seen at a Gap possibly ever, with it wrapping completely around the store," UBS analysts noted in a research report. Customers reportedly waited on check-out lines for up to an hour. But after the promotions ended, the Gap division went rather non-promotional into Sunday, as did Banana Republic. Gap continues to be one of the more targeted retailers with respect to promotions this holiday season, Sozzi said. "We expect Gap brand to post impressive November same-store sales results," Tennant wrote. "However, our Old Navy checks suggest a deceleration from last year's levels, and we believe Gap division strength may be offset by Old Navy in November." While in October Gap reported a surprise 2% uptick in same-store sales, trends were previously negative.
Kohl's ( KSS) offered 40% to 60% off at stores until 1 p.m. on Black Friday. With a strong inventory position and employees on the floor to assist customers, the stores seemed better prepared than last year, Jaffe wrote. Kohl's also improved its checkout systems, which kept lines moving quickly. Jaffe noted that home items and electronics seemed to be bigger sellers than apparel. J.P. Morgan also said Kohl's was among the best performers in the broadlines space, as overall off-mall retailers outperformed mall-based stores.
Limited Brands ( LTD) has been one of the biggest retail winners this year, and that success continued throughout the Black Friday weekend. Its Victoria's Secret chain was able to drive significant traffic with limited promotions, likely benefiting margins in the quarter, Jaffe wrote. The lingerie retailer offered free holiday totes with a $60 purchase until 12 p.m., while all bras were buy-one-get-one-50%-off, a promotion that continued throughout the weekend. In October, Limited Brands reported a 9% jump in same-store sales, easily topping estimates.
Target's ( TGT) Black Friday performance is expected to boost November same-store sales more than management's call for a low-single digit increase. Janney Capital Markets analyst David Strasser is now looking for growth of 4% for the month. "On their mid-month earnings conference call, Target said that same-store sales were up mid-single digits," he wrote "We also believe a strong holiday weekend helped, and Target can easily achieve this 90 basis points of sequential acceleration on a two-year basis." On Black Friday, shoppers were wooed by Target's doorbusters, specifically on small appliances, resulting in an increase in traffic compared with last year, UBS notes. Target's pre-Black Friday sales, free shipping program, 5% Red Card loyalty program, expansion of its P-Fresh grocery segment and addition of new products like Amazon's ( AMZN) Kindle and Apple's ( AAPL) iPad, are all expected lift sales. --Written by Jeanine Poggi in New York. >To contact the writer of this article, click here: Jeanine Poggi. >To follow the writer on Twitter, go to http://twitter.com/jpoggi. >To submit a news tip, send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.