The many faces of the 2011 holiday season

WHAT IT MEANS AND WHY IT'S IMPORTANT — During Black Friday weekend, people were spending more money during an economy where that nasty word "recession" still is on the back of everyone's tongue. But was foot traffic down during the weekend because of the number of tryptophan-dazed consumers walking the aisles a day early to get the best deals? Or did consumers forsake the Black Friday shopping madness in exchange for the no lines/free shipping offered on Cyber Monday? Or, are consumers waiting for the anticipated retailers-gone-mad super sales that will allegedly be available on the "Super Saturday" before Dec. 25? Or are there just fewer people with gift-giving money to spend? Like any good multiple-choice test question, the answer is surely E) all of the above.

(THE NEWS: ShopperTrak: Black Friday weekend sales up, foot traffic down. For the full story, click here.)

Once considered forboden, retailers this year created quite a lot of buzz by opening their doors at a time when many people were polishing off their pumpkin pies in years past, and were rewarded by a 4.4% lift in sales according to the ShopperTrak report.

And Cyber Monday was a big hit, as were the next two days Cyber Tuesday and Cyber Wednesday. According to the latest from ComScore, Cyber Monday generated $1.3 billion in online sales, followed $1.1 billion on Nov. 29 and $1 billion on Nov. 30. That's $3.4 billion in sales that didn't require getting up at the crack of dawn to tussle for the last of the Fijit Friends. That means for many retailers who play in both spaces, a loss in foot traffic on Black Friday was made up for with the number of click-throughs on Cyber Monday.

An America's Research Group/UBS survey found that around 58% of Americans are, in fact, holding out for what they are hoping will be super deals in the days leading up to Christmas. That is, of course, if they hadn't already finished their gift shopping already — 15.1% wrapped the last of their gifts last week. The UBS survey also suggested that more than a quarter of shoppers have already exceeded their shopping budgets, thanks in part to all of the bargains they found on Black Friday and the days prior and post. One-third of shoppers are even writing their own names in the "To:" field on those gift labels.

All of the projections and the multitude of theories offering the "why" behind the "buy" are enough to make your head spin. Those projections are all over the place. Depending upon which press release you pick up, anywhere from 25% of Americans to 61% of Americans are actually looking to spend less this year.

The fact of the matter, as addressed in the Drug Store News cover story in the pending Dec. 12 issue, is that there is a sliding scale that determines how impacted a household is by the slow recovery — those making less than $100,000 are still impacted; those making more than $100,000, for the most part, are not. And higher-end consumers do represent an untapped opportunity, especially for drug retailers, according to Todd Hale, SVP shopper and consumer insights for Nielsen. Many drug retailers already appear to be raising their retail experiences they deliver to meet the expectations of a higher-end consumer with prestige beauty offerings and a greater stake in fresh food.