Thanksgiving shopping was a 'bust'

Thanksgiving shopping was a “bust” this year, according to analysts at SunTrust.

In a note to clients on Friday, SunTrust provided an update on their pre-Black Friday “channel checks” — or in-person scan of activity at stores — at malls and other retail outlets in the New York metro area, New England, and the Southeast parts of the country.

And overall, the team thought shopping on Thanksgiving — a trend that really took hold a few years ago when stores starting opening the day before Black Friday — was a “bust.”

Here’s SunTrust:

We believe Thanksgiving shopping was a bust. We note that traffic seemed below last year both on- and off-mall. Members of our team who went to the malls first had no problem finding parking or navigating stores. Crowds were tame and, with some exceptions there seemed to be more browsing than buying and less items purchased. We heard many people discussing that deals were not that compelling compared to years past. Interestingly, many retailers closed at midnight- which contributed to a sharp decline in traffic shortly thereafter. Off-mall, members of our team visited Walmart and Target for the openings and had no problem finding parking. Customers at both were focused on electronics. Lines, even early, were about half of what they were last year and quickly dissipated. The only off-mall big box retailer we visited with consistently long lines and customers making multiple item purchases was Kohl’s — where buys were focused on deals not available online.

And so at least in the view of SunTrust’s team, it sounds like a big source of traffic at the mall and otherwise were people who got bored sitting around with their relatives eating turkey and watching football and needed to get out of the house.

In its note, SunTrust said the biggest surprise was the decline in traffic from last year.

Additionally, the firm noticed a decline in the magnitude of discounts it found at stores, which it said indicates that retail management teams see the holiday sales season as a, “marathon not a sprint.”

The biggest surprises the firm found was the decision by the number of retailers to not open at all on Thanksgiving and that some shoppers were buying outerwear, an item that most people think consumers would have already purchased at this point.

As for early winners and losers by brand, the SunTrust’s team saw solid traffic at American Eagle, Old Navy, and Abercrombie & Fitch. The losers were Gap (which owns Old Navy), Zumiez, and New York & Company.

For the Black Friday “holiday,” retailers still have about 15 hours to go, but the early read is that it seems like people are either shopping online or not at all.

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