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Retailers: What are you seeing?

Posted by: John Tozzi on December 1, 2008

Was your store empty over the weekend? Filled with browsers instead of buyers? Did discounts translate into sales? Are shoppers clicking through on your Web site?

We want small retailers to tell us what you’re seeing. Most of the coverage of what’s expected to be the worst holiday sales season in decades has focused on Wal-Mart, other discount chains, big department stores, and electronics retailers. It’s harder to get a sense of how small retailers are faring. Share your story, either in the comments or by email.

I’d like to collect stories from readers on the ground about what they’re seeing in their own small businesses and those they patronize. Together we can piece together a picture of how the economy is affecting small retailers.

Here’s a start: I was in a local furniture store Friday (my only Black Friday purchase was a new bookcase) that was empty — the manager told me it was the slowest time he’d seen in his 20 years working there.

Here’s a comment a small business owner named Chuck Gaffney left on another story about holiday shopping:

My company has doubled sales in the past year and I deal with Japanese collectibles and crystal figures, which I’m surprised about since these are not necessities. At least on my end the consumer spending and confidence is doing quite well since I take care of the customers first, run online only and deal in unsaturated market.[…]

What are you seeing?

Reader Comments

Jeremy Shepherd

December 2, 2008 5:44 PM

We are an online pearl seller ( with a small, appointment-only showroom in Los Angeles, so we are typically closed from Thanksgiving through Sunday. Orders are still placed on our site, however.

On black Friday and through the weekend our sales were very strong – more than doubling the volume during the same period last year. The primary difference we noticed was the per-sale value, which had dropped by 34%.

On Cyber Monday we launched a private sale directed at our past customers, selecting products that allowed for the deepest possible discounts and largely available in our inventory. Our target pricing was very similar to average per-sale values over the weekend.

The sale drew in more than 7000 visitors to the site within the first 12 hours and our conversion rate was just above 6%. Our average conversions hover around 2%. It was a very successful sale.

What is happening for us is that the economy has not had an effect on our sales volume, only per-sale value. We are also speaking with a lot more bargain-hunting shoppers than ever before. They know what they want to buy and understand brick and mortar pricing, so they have come to the Internet searching for better deals.

Emily Shap

December 2, 2008 9:10 PM

Although we are not a retailer ourselves, PaymentMax provides merchant services for thousands of small to mid-size retailers all over the United States. We ran the reports after the Thanksgiving weekend and were pleasantly surprised that our retailer's sales saw double-digit increases, about 12% from the month prior. Our online merchants also saw increases following CyperMonday. I agree that consumers are looking for the blockbusting deals this holiday season and as long as small and mid-size retailers are aware of this trend and incorporate this into their sales approach this season, they will see customers in their stores: both brick and mortar and online

Caroline Haddad

December 3, 2008 2:38 PM

We are a brick and mortar gift and stationery store located in a suburban strip center near Washington, D.C. Our county has been rated as one of the top three wealthiest counties in the Nation for several years.

For us, the past four months have been Ho Ho Humbug! As we enter our fourth year of operation, we've seen our business change from being profitable to becoming a ever-increasing liability. This past Black Friday weekend, we saw sales at 50% of last year. We rely on 4th quarter revenue to balance out the slower summer months' sales as well as providing cash flow to take us into the New Year.

To satisfy the new consumer who is looking for the deep discount puts our business at peril. A fifty percent discount on our products equals negative cash flow. So, which makes more sense for the small retailer faced with this type of challenge; 1) discount products to reduce inventory and eliminate all margin, or 2) lock the doors, lay off staff, and continue paying rent for the duration of the lease.

Sadly, number 2 is the cheaper option.

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What's it like to run your own company today? Entrepreneurs face multiple hurdles new and old, from raising capital and managing employees to keeping up with technology and competing in a global marketplace. In this blog, the Small Business channel's John Tozzi and Nick Leiber discuss the news, trends, and ideas that matter to small business owners. Follow them on Twitter @newentrepreneur.

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