The PJ Tatler

Black Friday: Crowds Up, Sales Down. Is Obamacare a Reason?

Yahoo reports that Black Friday crowds were up strongly this year. But retailers still may not have sold as much stuff this year as last year.

A record 141 million people were expected to shop in stores and online over the four-day period that ended on Sunday, up from last year’s 137 million, according to the results of a survey of nearly 4,500 shoppers conducted for The National Retail Federation.

But total spending was expected to fall for the first time ever since the trade group began tracking it in 2006, according to the survey that was released on Sunday afternoon. Over the four days, spending fell an estimated 2.9 percent to $57.4 billion.

Shoppers, on average, were expected to spend $407.02 during the four days, down 3.9 percent from last year. That would be the first decline since the 2009 holiday shopping season when the economy was just coming out of the recession.

The survey underscores the challenges stores have faced since the recession began in late 2007. Retailers had to offer deeper discounts to get people to shop during the downturn, but Americans still expect those “70 percent off” signs now during the recovery.

Personally, I check some Black Friday ads but don’t get into the shopping. There’s just something about massive crowds and the probability of insane behavior that keep me either shopping online or not at all. But about half the country hit the stores over the weekend, yet spent less than last year.

For two months now, Americans have been regaled with the triplet messes of Obamacare. The website didn’t work when the law rolled out. Those who could use the website got sticker shock from more expensive plans due to Obamacare’s mandates. And about 5 million Americans have already had their insurance cancelled. They’re just the first wave of rate hikes and/or cancellations coming — the employer mandate hasn’t even kicked in yet. The media haven’t quantified all this yet, but this amount of turmoil and uncertainty over something as fundamental as healthcare is bound to have an impact on holiday shopping. If you’re worried about your job, worried about seeing your hours cut, and worried about what you’ll be paying for healthcare — or you’ve already received President Obama’s expensive “gift” — you have less motivation to spend and less cash to spend too.