Black Friday Bliss: The Case for Economic Optimism, Part V

Initial reports suggest that Black Friday Weekend 2010 was just what America's retail industry was looking for. Online and in-store shoppers increased 9 percent over 2009, according to two reports. Web spending in November rose 14 percent on Friday and Saturday; however, shopping mall revenue was up only 0.3 percent according to another report, as deep discounts moved millions of early morning shoppers.

Overall, that's pretty good news. And when you dig into the numbers, the news looks even better. There were worries that Black Friday discounts would steal sales from the rest of the holiday season, but online shopping was up 13 percent in November and almost 30 percent on Thanksgiving Day, according yearly data from comScore.

Equally encouraging is the fact that shoppers are starting to buy stuff they don't need. This year saw more jewelery shoppers (despite the price of gold) and more electronics buyers. The percentage of people who shopped at discounters declined 7.2 percent, according to the National Retail Federation. The pressure to cut and hold down prices is strong, but the further Americans open their wallets, the more prices can peel away from sticky low inflation.

All this comes on top of a good October for retailers, who saw their biggest month-to-month jump in more than half a year. Nobody knows how the rest of the holiday season will play out [my colleague is more pessimistic], but the steady performance through October and November has to encourage economists waiting for the American consumer to hit his/her stride. It should also encourage retailers to keep hiring, after their best holiday-season start since 2006.

Read more cases for optimism! The overall case is made here. See Part II here, Part III here, and Part IV here.

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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