Black Friday Briefly Suspends Spending Slowdown

by Frank Newport

Little evidence of a sustained retail spending splurge last weekend

PRINCETON, NJ -- Americans' self-reported spending jumped on Black Friday of this past weekend, marking a sharp turnaround from the general drop in spending evident over the past several weeks. Still, spending dropped back to more typical levels on Saturday, providing faint hope that this Christmas season will see a surge of holiday shopping to help bolster the weak economy.


Gallup has been tracking self-reported consumer spending "yesterday" since the beginning of this year. The question asks:

Next, we'd like you to think about your spending yesterday, not counting the purchase of a home, motor vehicle, or your normal household bills. How much money did you spend or charge yesterday on all other types of purchases you may have made, such as at a store, restaurant, gas station, online, or elsewhere?

The average daily amount reported over the year so far has been $109.

The Gallup consumer spending estimate is not specific to any particular purpose or holiday, and since the data have been collected in this format only since January of this year, there is no explicit comparison available to post-Thanksgiving spending in prior years. Still, the trend should reflect increases spending due to holiday gift-buying, and thus can provide a good indicator of how things are progressing in these critical days (critical for retailers, at any rate) leading up to Christmas.

The measure shows a good deal of lability, even when the daily reports are smoothed out with rolling averages, as they are in the accompanying graph. Even so, a look at the recent trend based on a 14-day rolling average clearly shows a notable downturn in self-reported spending beginning in the middle of November that extended through to the week of Thanksgiving.


The 14-day rolling average has moved back up in the last two days, reflecting the rise in spending on Friday and Saturday. Still, this average is well below spending levels at many other points this year.

More specifically, self-reported spending on Thanksgiving Day, as would be expected, was very low. In fact, the $39 that the average American reported spending on Thanksgiving was the lowest daily report of the year so far.

There was a sharp rebound in spending on Black Friday, as noted, when the average reported spending jumped to $177. This is the highest single day of spending in the ongoing tracking since Nov. 7, and is among the highest daily totals of the year (although certainly not the highest single-day report).

Unfortunately, self-reported consumer spending for Saturday fell to $117, not that far above the yearly average, although still above the early November spending levels. Data for spending on Sunday and "Cyber Monday" will be available later this week, and it is possible that there will be a more sustained jump in reported spending in the rolling averages Gallup will report in the days to come.

As noted, because Gallup began this particular consumer measurement procedure in early January of this year, there are no comparable data from previous years for the period immediately after Thanksgiving, and thus no way to quantify exactly where this year's spending stands compared with previous years. Plus, Gallup is still examining the relationship between these self-reports and government and private reports of spending, and there is a good deal of day-to-day variation in Americans' reports of what they spend. Still, the comparisons discussed here do not suggest -- at least so far -- that there was a huge pent-up release of sustained heavy spending this weekend. Thus, the data continue to point to an anemic retail Christmas shopping period this year.

Survey Methods

For the Gallup Poll Daily tracking survey, Gallup is interviewing no fewer than 1,000 U.S. adults nationwide each day during 2008. The consumer spending questions reviewed in this article are based on interviews with a random half sample of approximately 500 adults each night. For results based on each night's sample, the maximum margin of sampling error is ±$43.

For results based on the sample of approximately 7,000 adults in the 14-day rolling average, the maximum margin of sampling error is ±$13.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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