The Superbowl of shopping actually doesn’t tell us much about the state of consumers.
There’s nothing more American than stampeding stores on Black Friday to save some money on your holiday shopping. But it’s meaningless.
Not meaningless in an existentialist way, though that too. Rather, meaningless as an economic indicator. See, Black Friday sales tell us nothing about overall holiday sales—and hence the state of consumers. You can see that in the chart below from Capital Economics (via Neil Irwin). It compares the change in sales during Thanksgiving week with the change in total sales from November to January. There’s not much of a relationship, and if anything, there’s a slightly negative correlation. In other words, better Black Fridays are associated with worse holiday sales seasons.
So don’t think of the crowds as a referendum on the economy. Some people like to shop on Black Friday, and some people don’t, and that’s pretty much all there is to say about it. Just think of them as your competition for the best deals.
Not that I need to say that.