This year's Thanksgiving sales don't tell us anything about the health of our economy. But they do show us something about its digital future.
The American shopper is back! Or is she?
Here's what the Black Friday/Cyber Monday numbers tell us: Americans just spent a lot of money. The National Retail Federation estimates that Americans spent a record $52 billion dollars through Sunday. That doesn't include the online retail haul from Cyber Monday. Online sales on Cyber Monday eclipsed last year's record of $1.03 billion, according to Coremetrics.
Here's what the numbers don't tell us: anything useful about the recovery. Are shoppers really more confident about the economy? Or are they just desperate for deals? We don't know. The last time shoppers spent this much over Thanksgiving were the dark days of 2008. Afterwards, holiday sales promptly fell off a cliff.
But this weekend's shopping spree provides another important lesson. It tells us how we shop. The key storyline of Thanksgiving 2011 is not about mobs lining up at midnight. It's about buyers leaning back with iPads after the big family dinner. It's about the continuing rise of online, and especially mobile, shopping.
Consider these numbers. On Black Friday, in-store purchases increased about 7%. But online, Thanksgiving Day, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday sales jumped by 39%, 24% and 33%, respectively.