by Rick Haglund Detroit Bureau
Wednesday December 03, 2008, 9:18 AM
Having been subjected to an unrelenting barrage of bad economic news, consumers broke out of their funk and engaged in some serious retail therapy over the Thanksgiving weekend.
But will the holiday shopping spree continue or was it just a feel-good, three-day spending binge?
Despite rising joblessness and the worst economy in at least 25 years, consumers surprisingly opened their pocketbooks and spent 7.2 percent more during the weekend kickoff of the holiday shopping season than they did a year ago, according to the National Retail Federation.
Many Michigan retailers apparently also enjoyed relatively healthy post-Thanksgiving sales results, even though auto industry woes have dominated the news and dinner table conversations.
Forty percent of the 50 retailers who responded to an e-mail survey by the Michigan Retailers Association said their weekend sales exceeded the same period a year ago.
An additional 20 percent said their sales were about the same as last year.
"It's good to see consumers out," said Ed Nakfoor, a retailing consultant in Birmingham. "It does a lot to calm the jitters and shows that not everyone's at home stuffing the mattresses."
People without jobs or those who fear losing them probably were not shopping. But industry officials say many consumers who have been staying away from the malls recently were ready to spend on Black Friday.
"You can almost sense a backlash against all the gloom and doom in news reports," said James Hallan, chief executive officer of the 5,500-member Michigan Retailers Association.
Whether consumers will remain confident throughout the critically important holiday shopping season is unclear, though.
Some experts says consumers may have wrapped up most of their holiday shopping last weekend because there are five fewer shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year than in 2007.
Fearful of a dismal Black Friday, the day industry traditionally swings from losses to profits, retailers offered some of their biggest early morning "door buster" discounts ever.
"A lot of stores were basically giving away the store," Nakfoor told me.
And they likely will continue offering deep discounts to save what many experts earlier anticipated would be the worst holiday shopping season in years.
In October, the state retailers association said its members were forecasting holiday sales would fall 1.2 percent from 2007, the first predicted year-over-year sales decline since the association started surveying retailers in 1994.
But holiday shoppers have annually proven their generosity, regardless of economic conditions, said association spokesman Tom Scott.
"I think overall there's still this sense among people that the holiday comes only once a year and that they'll make the best of it for their friends and family," he said.