Scenes from Black Friday: Aeropostale, American Eagle, Victoria's Secret Hot, Banana Republic Not

Last Updated Nov 29, 2009 10:04 PM EST

Initial reports suggest Black Friday certainly wasn't a dud. The only real strong selling period of the 2008 holiday season, up three percent from the year earlier, sales for the day increased modestly in 2009 according to a report from Shoppertrak, up half a percentage point and coming in at $10.7 billion.

An interesting point emerges in the regional breakdown Shoppertrak offered. Three of the four U.S. regions gained versus Black Friday 2009, but one was off considerably. Black Friday sales in the West gained almost five percent while those in the Midwest advanced a bit more than one percent and those in the South by about half a percent. However Black Friday sales in the Northeast tumbled by almost five percent. Having entered the recession a bit later than other regions of the country, the Northeast may lag in the recovery as well.

And in the Northeast, different stores had different scenes on Black Friday afternoon. Retailers that have been doing well in the recession and tentative recovery tended to continue to have draw at the busy but not frenzied Roosevelt Field Mall in Garden City, N.Y., but the presence of significant sales events seemed to help. And some surprises were in store, so to speak. Certainly, Aeropostale (ARO) was having a good day, and it's not hard to figure out why. With a reputation for youth fashion at a price, the company already has established a strong track record in the recession, even if a three percent comparable store sales gain -- which covers stores open for at least a year -- in October disappointed analysts. Still, Aeropostale did post an advanced, the company raised earnings guidance, and it went into the holiday with every intention of maintaining its price advantage, which makes sense as some observers felt its teen customer was holding out for Black Friday.

Aeropostale's three-day only sale covered the entire store, or so said the signage. The fine print included notice that clearance, fragrance and gift cards/online gift certificates weren't included, but that short list of exceptions seemed rarely generous in a season that has included so many highly qualified sales events. The retailer also ran a limited web special over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend with, for example, hoodies for $12.99, but that warned sale items might run out at any time, which sounded a lot more like a typical 2009 holiday discount program. Additional information on its Black Friday will be available this coming Wednesday, as Aeropostale webcasts its third quarter conference call.

On the other hand, Banana Republic, with no strong price presentation out in front of the store wasn't drawing crowds on Friday afternoon. It also complemented its store efforts with an online promotion, this for four days, but at only 30 percent off sweaters and outerwear. So, it wasn't the strongest effort given other discounts available. The Gap (GPS) division has suffered in the recession and provided no sign of a Black Friday turnaround at Roosevelt Field. Lest anyone think this blog is singling out Banana Republic, a following blog on Black Friday action at department stores has a couple of more tales of woe to relate. In contrast to Banana Republic, American Eagle Outfitters (AEO), which suffered soft earnings and a comparable store sales decline in its last completed quarter, was packed. The store at the Roosevelt Field Mall didn't scream discount like Aeropostale, and the discounts it offered weren't as comprehensive as those at some other retailers. It added a 30 percent discount on clearance items for those determined to grab a bargain, and able to find one in the size they needed, and it offered $20 hoodies. In addition, it ran an instant win game that used a card with tear-back tab to provide whoever walked in the store with a deal, generally a 10 percent off discount. Yet, shoppers seemed to treat the deals as incidental, as they were busy pulling apart displays all over the store. For whatever reason fickle taste represents, consumers seemed to be after the goods themselves at American Eagle.

Strong traffic at Williams-Sonoma (WSM) might have seemed unexpected. The upscale home retailer is another that has struggled in the recession but some particularly big bargains may have helped on Black Friday. The signage announcing the discounts was small and subtle, but the discounts were steep and included a Calphalon Unison Non Stick Fry Pan Set, regularly $225 on sale for $59.99.

Another surprising Black Friday success -- at least in degree for the occasion -- was Victoria's Secret. Crowds were large, checkout lines were long and readers will have to take the blogger's word for it. No matter how innocent his intention, a guy standing outside Victoria's Secret taking pictures of the women shopping for lingerie gets thrown out of the mall. The big sign at New York & Company (NWY) that announced 50 percent off "Absolutely Positively" everything in the store drew some interest. The company has been working to manage costs as its comparable store sales and earnings have been sliding, even if the degree of profit slippage has been easing of late.

Hot Topic (HTT) also drew well, although the main deal it promoted was a bit more difficult to fathom than most others that gained shoppers attention at Roosevelt Field. Yet, as Hot Topic is one of the clubbier of retailers, a complex frequent shopper program probably has a certain appeal to its bigger fans. For the less well initiated, it offered half off a second rock t-shirt purchased.