By Michelle Graff
Chicago--ShopperTrak, a firm that has devices installed in stores to count the number of people coming in, said retail foot traffic declined 4 percent year-over-year this past weekend, a drop-off attributable to the Internet.

Shoppers made an estimated 1.8 billion store visits over the entire “Black” weekend, which encompasses Thursday (Thanksgiving Day) through Sunday.

ShopperTrak founder Bill Martin said the data provided by his agency is based on the counting machines they have installed in hundreds of retail stores across the U.S. that is then extrapolated to provide a big-picture view of retail. It does not represent unique visitors, meaning that the same person can be counted multiple times.

Though foot traffic fell, the data ShopperTrak received from its retail partners showed that sales increased 1 percent year-over-year to $22.2 billion spent across the four-day span, compared with $22 billion last year.

The ability to shop and buy online was probably the key driver for the reduced foot traffic in stores, Martin said in an interview with National Jeweler Tuesday, though he notes that even when consumers do buy something in a store, they most likely have researched it online first.

Retailers need to be alert to this fact.

“When the shopper finally chooses a store to go to, they are pretty far down the decision path. So, when they get there, they are ready to buy,” Martin said. “They are not just browsing around anymore.”

He said retailers need to be cordial to every customer who comes through the doors this holiday season.

Region-wise, the Northeast recorded the greatest decline in foot traffic at 10 percent, followed by the Midwest at 5 percent and the South at 2 percent. After a sharp decline last year, foot traffic in the West was flat over the weekend, according to ShopperTrak.

Martin said fewer shoppers were out in the Northeast because it is a region still impacted by Superstorm Sandy, which made landfall a little more than a year ago, and the looming debt-ceiling debate. (For ShopperTrak, the Northeast includes the Washington, D.C. area.) “I think there’s a lot going on in that area that has people worried,” he said.

The ShopperTrak data, made public on Tuesday, comes on the heels of the release of comparable data from the National Retail Federation. According to the NRF, which calculates the number of shoppers differently than ShopperTrak, slightly more people actually hit the stores over the weekend but, on average, spent less.

The NRF data supports ShopperTrak’s assertion that online shopping was a major part of weekend sales. After department stores, more consumers said they shopped online than anywhere else.

Following the holiday weekend, Martin said ShopperTrak is standing by its prediction that the holiday season will bring a 10 percent decline in foot traffic while sales will increase 2 percent.

He said overall, consumers are pacing themselves, having begun shopping not just over this past holiday weekend but throughout the month of November, as retailers started offering deals even earlier this year.

Martin said he expects consumers now will take a short break before returning to the stores just before Christmas.

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