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How sustainable is Black Friday?

Retailers opened up earlier than ever to capture shopper interest this year during Black Friday. But savvy sellers are looking to Cyber Monday more and more.

Black Friday and Cyber Monday have come and gone, kicking off the 2007 holiday-shopping season...apparently in full force.

As you are probably aware, Black Friday is the term in the U.S. for retail shopping on the Friday after Thanksgiving, and Cyber Monday refers to online shopping on the Monday following Thanksgiving.

These have become milestone shopping days that retailers use as indicators for the health of the holiday-shopping season. While they are often referred to as the busiest or even biggest shopping days, they are quite often trumped by other days leading up to Christmas.

Retail, probably more than any other business, seems to live and breathe on year-over-year and comparable-day sales comparisons. Ask even the smallest retailer you know how they are doing, and without a blink they can probably quote how the day, week, and month are stacking up compared with a year ago.

While economic conditions, weather, and countless other variables can greatly impact sales, I have to imagine that most retailers would feel like a high school football team losing their homecoming game if sales fell even slightly below the previous year. Nothing seems to soften that blow.

What really struck me this year, though, was hearing reports of malls opening at midnight and other stores opening up earlier than ever before. I couldn't help but wonder: how sustainable is Black Friday sales growth?

The National Retail Federation reported that Black Friday weekend traffic was up 4.8 percent over last year, but average consumer spending was down 3.5 percent from last year. The NRF projects that holiday sales will rise 4 percent, though, so perhaps it will all be worth it when all the numbers add up after the season has come and gone.

But in the back of my mind, when I start thinking about extra staffing, overtime pay, holiday pay, and perhaps even lower gross margins or even losses on some of the door-buster specials, I wonder what the result of net sales is and whether it is really all worth it? How quickly will the point be reached when you can't open any earlier, drive any more store traffic, or offer enough hot deals to justify it all?

Enter Cyber Monday
Based on survey research from, this fact isn't lost on retailers. While Black Friday won't be disappearing anytime soon, many retailers are looking to how they can further tap into the online market to drive sales. I'm sure their data includes retailers that are strictly online-based, but seeing how 72.2 percent of them planned special promotions for Cyber Monday, up from 42.7 percent from two years ago, online holiday sales look to have a pretty solid future.

And if those numbers don't indicate retailers' interest, perhaps the prime-time TV commercial I watched while writing this does. It was for a very well-known national electronics retailer with over 600 retail stores in the U.S. alone, yet the commercial focused solely on its Web site.

Perhaps the number that has online retailers already smiling this year though was from the survey that revealed that 72 million Americans--11 million more than last year--planned to shop online this past Monday. Maybe next year more shoppers will measure the shopping season based on remaining online shipping days than store shopping days, and more retailers will start planning their holiday calendar around SEO.