Black Friday Sales Predictions Uncertain, but Jobs Outlook is Rosier

Black Friday shoppersWe haven't even hit the stores for Black Friday yet, but the predictions about just how big of a day it will be are rolling in. "138 Million Shoppers Expected ... Up from 2009" screams one headline and "Fewer Americans Plan to Hit the Stores" declares another.The National Retail Federation says 138 million people are planning to shop Black Friday weekend (Friday, Saturday and Sunday), up from the 134 million people who planned to do so last year, according to NRF's annual surveys. Approximately 60 million people say they will definitely hit the stores while another 78 million are still waiting to see if the bargains are worth braving the Black Friday crowds.

But according to Consumer Reports, just 102 million people intend to hit the mall on Black Friday weekend, approximately 16 million less than last year.

Who's right? Better yet, who cares?

Well, if you're like the millions of Americans planning to shop Black Friday, it might matter as you attempt to estimate the crowds and what demand might be for doorbusters or the remaining deals offered throughout the day. But even more people are looking at retail sales in general, and Black Friday sales in particular, to gauge the state of our economy.

According to the NRF figures, the U.S. economy is on an upswing. More shoppers and more spending both indicate a better economic climate and help to push it forward. Less is, of course the opposite. NRF is often accused of being overly optimistic in its annual holiday sales predictions, but there does seem to be room for cautious optimism at least.

Unemployment remains high, but the jobs reports are less disturbing than before and retailers are hiring more people as seasonal workers this year than last. In all, retailers are expected to take on 550,000 workers this season, roughly 50,000 more than last year. Some can expect to stay employed once the holidays are over as temporary, or pop-up stores, become more permanent.

With spending predictions all over the place, a week before Black Friday, it's difficult to know what the final tally will be and what it means for our economy. The only certainty is that Black Friday 2010 will bring with it good deals. Let the sales begin.

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