It's here. Black Friday has arrived, although the lines have blurred between Thanksgiving Thursday and Black Friday, which are turning into one in the same it seems in the retail universe where the sun never sets on the e-commerce platform and the deals are always on.
To be sure, Friday's "doorbusters" were available online Thursday, and early reports suggest plenty of shoppers put down the turkey leg and picked up their smartphones to take advantage of the deals.
Data from Adobe Analytics indicates $1.52 billion was spent online by 5:00 p.m. ET on Thanksgiving Day, up 16.8% from the same period a year ago.
The question is -- and will remain throughout the holiday selling season -- how much of the online sales strength will come at the expense of in-store sales? That answer will have to wait, yet the drivers are in place for active consumer spending this holiday.
Unemployment is low, home equity values are up, major stock indices are at record highs, consumer confidence is near its best levels in more than a decade, and retailers are not holding back on the promotions. If only real income growth was stronger, the sales growth this holiday selling season could be through the roof.
The National Retail Federation is forecasting holiday retail sales in November and December, excluding auto, gasoline, and restaurant sales, to increase between 3.6% and 4.0%, versus a five-year average of 3.5% and a 3.6% growth rate last year. In other words, the forecast is for good, but not great, holiday sales growth.
Not surprisingly, Amazon.com (AMZN) is expected to be the main beneficiary of the growth in online sales, which are becoming easier and more convenient to transact with the proliferation of smartphones. Consumer-friendly return policies are another inducement for online shoppers.
The holiday retail sales pie, however, is a big one. Amazon.com might be the leader, yet the aim to preserve market share has forced just about every retailer to increase its online sales and delivery capabilities.
Accordingly, the playing field isn't as unlevel as it has been in recent years. Amazon.com won't be the only winner this holiday selling season, but it won't be better known until sometime in January which retailers have risen to the competitive occasion.
Look for many reports in the weeks ahead that handicap the race and for those reports to drive trading activity in the retail stocks, which will influence the direction of the Consumer Discretionary Select Sector SPDR ETF (XLY) and the SPDR S&P Retail ETF (XRT).