New York--As the unofficial kickoff of the holiday shopping season, Black Friday weekend can say a lot about consumer sentiment and how the rest of the year will go.

ShopperTrak, the Chicago-based company that tracks in-store foot traffic, has released its data for the 2017 weekend, compared it to 2016 data and analyzed what it means for retailers right now.

Here are some of the key points from the company’s findings.

1. The decline in shopper traffic is slowing.
According to ShopperTrak, traffic levels for the holiday week as a whole, from Sunday, Nov. 19 to Sunday, Nov. 26, show that the rate of shopper visit decline is the same this year as it was in 2016-- down 2 percent.

This is a “meaningful” improvement when compared with 2015, the firm said, when traffic was down by nearly 5 percent.

Additionally, Black Friday traffic this year was down less than 1 percent compared with last year, meaning the day still is a very important one for shoppers and that they’re ready to hit the stores this season.

The Saturday and Sunday of the weekend also have become slightly more important for shoppers.

Traffic for the two-day period during the past two years has decreased 3 to 4 percent year-over-year, representing a turnaround from the prior three years, during which time visit decreases ranged from 5 percent to 6 percent year-over-year.

2. Fewer stores are opening on Thanksgiving.
When retailers began extending Black Friday shopping into Thanksgiving night about five years ago, ShopperTrak said its data initially indicated that consumers were responding positively to the late-night hours, showing up in large numbers to stores.

But it noted that as consumer enthusiasm for late Thanksgiving night deals has waned and the popularity of online shopping has grown, both retailers and shoppers have been trying to figure out the right mix.

This year, it resulted in a greater number of brick-and-mortar retailers opting to stay closed on Thanksgiving Day, ShopperTrak said, allowing employees to be their families.

“Based on several years of overall retail traffic data, we know that opening on Thanksgiving Day was merely pulling shopping visits from Black Friday, as opposed to creating an additional opportunity for shoppers to hit the stores,” said Brian Field, senior director of advisory services for ShopperTrak.

The decision to stay closed on Thanksgiving redistributes the shopping visits to the days leading up to it and to the other holiday weekend days, as well as “contributes to lower overhead and increased goodwill.”

3. Outlet malls were standouts.
According to ShopperTrak, while most retailers saw minimal change in their year-over-year traffic levels during the Black Friday weekend, retailers located in outlet malls had a different story to tell.

Traffic for non-outlet retailers that remained open on Thanksgiving night was flat compared with last year, but stores in outlet malls reported an overall 5 percent increase for the night, as well as a 2 percent increase in visits on Black Friday.
“Based on several years of overall retail traffic data, we know that opening on Thanksgiving Day was merely pulling shopping visits from Black Friday, as opposed to creating an additional opportunity for shoppers to hit the stores.”--Brian Field, senior director of advisory services for ShopperTrak
4. Online sales continue to boom.
ShopperTrak said many retailers have indicated that they’ve experienced “exceptional” online sales this year.

Adobe reported that $5.03 billion was spent on Black Friday and $6.59 billion on Cyber Monday, officially making it the largest sales day in history.

ShopperTrak also noted that Cyber Monday has little impact on in-store traffic, with brick-and-mortar retailers seeing a smaller decrease in foot traffic on that day, indicating the importance of omnichannel shopping.

5. Many of the busiest shopping days still are to come.
Earlier this fall, ShopperTrak predicted the 10 busiest shopping days of the holiday season.

After the Thanksgiving weekend and the first weekend of December, seven of the 10 anticipated busiest shopping days still remain, including so-called Super Saturday, which will fall on Dec. 23.

It’s important to note that there are four Saturdays in December before Christmas Day to allow for shopping, helping elevate the importance of both Dec. 16 and 23.

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