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US retail sales growth slows down December 14, 2011

Most shops reported stronger-than-expected business in the closely watched Black Friday sales

US retail sales crept up another 0.2% in November according to official data.

Compared with a year earlier, they were 6.7% higher, in line with recovery rate seen since early last year, the Commerce Department said.

Markets had expected a 0.5% increase after shops reported strong business during Black Friday – the day after Thanksgiving and traditional start of the sales period.

It was the slowest monthly growth rate since July.

However, the October sales figure was revised up to show 0.6% growth for the month.


According to the latest November data, electronics, internet sales and clothing all did well, symptomatic of the strong sales seen on Black Friday.

But sales fell at building materials and grocery stores, as well as at petrol stations, although the latter may reflect falling petrol prices.

“[The data] suggests that optimism over firm Black Friday sales following Thanksgiving may have been overdone,” said economist David Sloan of IFR Economics.

Continue reading the main story

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[This] could be the start of a period in which households start to spend more within their means”

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Paul Dales
Economist, Capital Economics

“The consumer still faces severe headwinds, most notably recent weakness in personal income growth restraining spending power, and uncertainty over whether the 2011 payroll tax cut will be sustained in 2012.”

Separate household consumption and income data has indicated that the rise in spending in recent months has been driven by consumers spending a bigger share of their income, rather than by them having much more income to spend.

As such, most economists expect the growth rate of spending to taper off somewhat in coming months.

“November’s modest rise could be the start of a period in which households start to spend more within their means,” said Paul Dales, economist at Capital Economics, who points to the unsustainable trend of falling savings.

“If households had brought some of their holiday spending forward to take advantage of Black Friday deals, then sales in both December and January may be just as weak,” he also cautions.

Business confidence

Meanwhile, in more positive news for the US economy, business confidence among small businesses has risen, according to a latest monthly poll.

The National Federation of Independent Business said its regular confidence index rose to 92 in November from 90.2 the month before.

It still remains well below its historic mid-point of 100, but is well up from its recession low of 81.

Most encouragingly, hiring plans by the businesses surveyed continued their steady rise. Small businesses account for a disproportionate share of job creation in the US relative to their turnover.

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US Thanksgiving retail sales up November 28, 2011

US retailers have reported a bumper start to the Christmas season

US retail sales figures in the critical Thanksgiving weekend rose 16% versus a year ago to $52.4bn, the National Retail Federation (NRF) has said.

The figures include Black Friday, the first day after the Thanksgiving holiday, when stores reopen.

NRF estimated that 86 million customers shopped online and in-store on Black Friday – the day traders traditionally leave the red and make a profit.

Thanksgiving Day itself saw 29 million shoppers.

According to research by ShopperTrak, provider of retail and mall foot-traffic counting services, Black Friday sales increased 6.6% over the same day last year.

This is equal to $11.4bn in retail purchases, and the biggest dollar amount ever spent during the day.

Retail foot-traffic rose accordingly, by 5.1% over Black Friday 2010.

Analysts are awaiting the results of Monday’s trading, known as Cyber Monday, which online retailers including Amazon cite as their biggest business day of the year.

‘Largest increase since 2007′

US electrical retailer Best Buy was cited as a strong performer over the Thanksgiving weekend.

Its strategy of opening stores at midnight on Thursday, and offering deals that could only be found in-store, forcing shoppers to step inside, was seen as a smart business move by analysts.

Shoppertrak founder Bill Martin said: “This is the largest year-over-year gain in ShopperTrak’s national retail sales estimate for Black Friday since the 8.3% increase we saw between 2007 and 2006.

“Still, it’s just one day. It remains to be seen whether consumers will sustain this behaviour through the holiday shopping season.”

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Discounts aid online sales surge

Amazon warehouses expect this to be the busiest time of the year for online orders

Online sales rose faster than expected in the US on Black Friday, according to surveys.

Internet sales totalled $816m (£524m), a 26% gain on last year, said Comscore. IBM Coremetrics put the rise at 24%.

Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, is treated by many retailers as the start of the Christmas shopping season. They offer one-off discounts to mark the occasion.

Analysts said heavy promotional activity helped drive demand.

By comparison, a report by Shoppertrak suggested that in-store Black Friday sales were up by 7% on last year, at $11.4bn.

Beating the rush

Around 50 million Americans visited online retail sites on Friday, according to Comscore.

It said Amazon was the most popular destination, with 50% more visitors than any other retailer.

Walmart, Best Buy, Target and Apple were next in line, said the analytics company.

“Despite some analysts’ predictions that the flurry of brick-and-mortar retailers opening their doors early for Black Friday would pull dollars from online retail, we still saw a banner day for e-commerce,” said Comscore’s chairman, Gian Fulgoni.

Mobile shopping

IBM Coremetrics also noted a trend towards shopping on smartphones and tablet computers.

It said Black Friday purchases made on mobile devices had accounted for 9.8% of all online sales, compared with 3.2% last year.

IBM described mobile shoppers as having had a “laser focus” since they had been more likely to view a single page on a retailer’s site rather than browse what else was for sale.

IBM said Apple’s iPhone and iPad had generated the most mobile internet visits to online stores, accounting for more than double the traffic originating from devices running Google’s Android system.

The company also noted a jump in Black Friday related chatter on social networks. It recorded a 110% rise in discussion volumes after consumers had shared tips on how to secure products before they sold out and the best places to park.

Cyber Monday

Friday’s internet sales are expected to be eclipsed today on what is referred to as Cyber Monday – which many experts believe will be the US’s busiest online shopping day of the year.

Close to 123 million Americans plan to make an online purchase according to a survey commissioned by the US National Retail Federation, an industry lobby group. That would be a 15% increase on last year.

NRF said nearly eight in ten online retailers would run special promotions including “flash sales that last an hour” and “free shipping offers”.

The federation also highlighted the shift to mobile devices, saying it expected 17.8 million Americans to use them to shop today, nearly five times the number in 2009.

“Retailers have invested heavily in mobile apps and related content as the appetite for Cyber Monday shopping through smartphones and tablets continues to rise,” said Vicki Cantrell, executive director of the NRF’s website

Cyber confusion

UK internet retailers said it was less clear which day will be the UK’s busiest online shopping day this year.

“Over the last couple of years we have seen a fortnight of peak activity over the period corresponding to both this and next week,” said Andy Mulcahy, a spokesman for the industry body Interactive Media in Retail Group (IMRG).

“We expect £3.72bn will be spent online over the two week period.”

Mr Mulcahy said that although some retailers are trying to generate interest in the idea of Cyber Monday in the UK, they are split over which day to mark.

He added that since many online retailers had been offering discounts of up to 70% for several months, customers might not have noticed a big difference in the level of promotional activity.

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Black Friday sales: moments of madness November 26, 2011

Every year Black Friday brings dramatic price slashing, massive media coverage and hordes of shoppers. This year is no exception, with reports of a women deploying pepper spray against rival bargain-hunters.

Some 150m people are expected to hit the stores looking for deals this weekend. But the concept is a relatively modern one.

The term was used by police in Philadelphia in the 1960s to describe the massive crowds and traffic jams that hit the sales after Thanksgiving. It wasn’t until the 1980s that an alternative theory started to appear, whitewashing Black Friday’s reputation. The new definition claimed Black Friday got its name because it marked the start of the shopping season that retailers hoped would take their books out of the red and into the black.

More recently we’ve seen the arrival of Cyber Monday, when online retailers started offering deals aimed at shoppers returning to work after the Thanksgiving weekend break. But so fierce has been the reaction from bricks-and-mortar retailers, many of whom are increasingly selling online, that the internet retailers broke ranks and started offering discounts well in advance of Monday. Even Apple, which famously doesn’t offer discounts, is holding an online sale this year. On Friday.

There’s a lot of money at stake. The National Retail Federation expects holiday sales to top $465.6bn this year, up 2.8% on last year. But the reality of overhyped shoppers chasing headline-grabbing discounts can be brutal, as these videos show.

Black Friday’s blackest day in recent history occurred in 2008 at the Wal-Mart in the Green Acres Mall in Valley Stream, New York.

Long Island Wal-Mart worker killed in sales stampede

A 2,000-strong crowd had gathered over night to take advantage of bargain’s including 75% off a blu-ray player. When the doors finally opened one worker, Jdimytai Damour, 34, 6ft 5ins and weighing 270 pounds, was trampled to death by the bargain hungry crowd. Four others, including a 28-year-old woman described as eight months pregnant, were treated for minor injuries.

One shopper Kimberly Cribbs of Queens, told Associated Press the crowd had acted like “savages” even after the tragedy. “When they were saying they had to leave, that an employee got killed, people were yelling, ‘I’ve been on line since yesterday morning,'” said Cribbs. “They kept shopping.”

Every year anti-shopping campaigner Reverend Billy (no he’s not a real reverend) and his Church of Not Shopping campaign against Christmas consumerism. Here he is reacting to the tragic death of Jdimytai Damour.

Perhaps we should be grateful that there are no big new toys to fight over this year.

Customers battle over PlayStation 3

Black Friday 2006 was all about PlayStation 3 and sadly proved a boon to those who like to argue video game violence has real world consequences.

This video is from Target in Buffalo, New York, last year. It’s not hard to see how Black Friday can turn tragic.

Black Friday sales stampede

The man stuck under those stampeding shoppers had to go to hospital.

And this video from a Target in Utah last year shows what most Black Fridays really look like: long lines, lots of shoppers, no violence.

Chaotic scenes from Black Friday sales in 2010

Those Mormons know how to shop – so much more genteel. “I just got hit in the face with a bag,” says the giggling, fresh-faced girl at 1:17. “We love Black Friday,” someone shrieks at the end of the video. “We
really don’t,” comes the reply.

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Black Friday sales start with pepper spray stampede November 25, 2011

Shoppers in the US kicked off their annual “Black Friday” orgy of consumerism amid scenes of pushing, pulling, running and – in one case – pepper-spraying their way through the doors of the nation’s shops and malls.

The annual tradition, when many stores open early with cut-price sales on the day after Thanksgiving, has become a source of controversy amid frequent scenes of near-rioting and injuries as mobs of people crowd into big-name shops.

But few can have expected even the most determined of bargain-hunters to adopt the brutal tactics of one female shopper in a Los Angeles suburb who attacked her rivals with pepper-spray: a substance more recently associated with police brutality against Occupy Wall Street protesters.

At least 20 people, including several children, were injured as the woman deployed her weapon. “I heard screaming and I heard yelling. Moments later my throat stung. I was coughing really bad,” said Matthew Lopez, a shopper who recounted his story to the Los Angeles Times.

The woman, whom witnesses said appeared to be defending an X-Box games console, has not been found or yet identified. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the gigantic store remained open amid the mayhem and other shoppers continued to roam the aisles filling their trolleys with goods.

The incident occurred late on Thanksgiving evening as the Walmart – like some other stores – had pushed back its Black Friday opening to begin late on Thursday.

The day gets its name from the idea that the period after Thanksgiving marks the part of the year when many shops finally get in the “black” and start turning a profit for the year.

But America in 2011 is stranded in a moribund economy marked by sluggish growth and a headline jobless rate stuck around 9%. Many retailers have pinned their hopes on a strong shopping season in the run up to Christmas and will be looking pouring through data from Black Friday for signs of increased spending.

Experts expect 152m people to hit the shops over the Black Friday weekend, up 27% on last year, with many retailers hoping for a desperately needed shot-in-the-arm to consumer spending in a still battered economy.

Even Apple, which has until now eschewed a discounting policy, cut its prices for one day on Friday.

Elsewhere in America the queues and rush to get through the doors was a little more steady and less violen than in Los Angeles. There were several shooting incidents, in Florida and in North Carolina, but it was far from clear these were directly linked to Black Friday shopping.  

Yet, despite the problems, millions of people queued up outside stores in order to be first inside and snap up some of the bargains on offer on anything from TVs and consumer electronics to fashion and furniture. At Macy’s in New York an estimated 9,000 people waited in the street for a midnight opening.

In recent years, as media coverage of the event has grown and scenes of rioting and stampedes have become more common, Black Friday has drawn its share of criticism.

However, this year, as the Occupy movement has sprung up across the country, shoppers in some parts of America have also been joined by protesters trying to persuade them to put down their bags and go home, or at least avoid large chains and shop smaller and more locally.

Some campaigners called for a boycott of stores by consumers, though judging by the mayhem and huge queues that had little impact. Elsewhere protests were held at stores. At Macy’s in Manhattan a small group of people chanted “Occupy it, don’t buy it” to waiting shoppers.

In places such as Seattle protesters planned to hold rallies outside Walmarts in the city. In the small city of Boise, Idaho, a local Occupy group aimed to dress up as the undead to symbolise “consumer zombies”.

In Iowa “flash mobs” of protesters were set to target malls to try and convince shoppers to stay or away or think more politically about their purchases.

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