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Scenes from Black Friday: Nordstrom and Bloomingdale's Bow to Macy's

Observers who visited the Roosevelt Field Mall in Garden City, N.Y., to shop this Nov. 27 might have fairly concluded that it was better to be a middle of the road department store than it was to be a fancy one.

Roosevelt Field wasn't the only place where luxury retailers were having a hard time. Analysts Lisa Walters and Sapna Shah of Retail Eye Partners, who make a habit of walking retail sales floors, determined that shoppers were flocking to value-oriented stores over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend that includes Black Friday. The low-price retailers saw plenty of footsteps hurry through their doors even if they only were offering deals similar to those that might pop up on any weekend. Walters and Shah concluded in their mall-walkers' report that the typical store needed price promotions to drive shopper footsteps, with that reality particularly true for specialty and luxury retailers. Back at Roosevelt Field, neither Nordstrom (JWN) nor Bloomingdale's had shoppers ransacking the place on Black Friday afternoon. In fact, in a particularly bad sign for the retailers, employees mostly were milling about in knots, chatting among themselves. Idle department store employees are a bad sign for two reasons. Most obviously, employees idle because no one is approaching service counters to inquire about or purchase merchandise. Even worse, however, is that they don't even feel compelled to refluff and refold manhandled, or woman-handled, merchandise, which suggests that customers aren't serious enough about purchasing to pick up sweaters and check if the sizes are right. Although the image of merchandise spilling off display tables might haunt the nightmares of department store managers, the thought of untouched merchandise is what keeps them up at night. Of the two, Nordstrom was doing a little better, at least in terms of traffic, but few folks were purchasing. A Nordstrom executive told The Wall Street Journal that traffic was good at the chain's stores. The problem at Roosevelt Field was that it seemed to keep moving, and browsing isn't buying. In fairness, some Black Friday reports included Nordstrom action, particularly in the shoe department, but that wasn't evident in Garden City. In a mall full of signs screaming sales, even significant discounts might be missed, and it was difficult not to consider that possibility when it came to Bloomingdale's. The retailer ran what it called a Big Brown Bag Sale on Black Friday. It offered an extra 40 percent off existing price cuts in its New View, Y.E.S., Contemporary Sportswear, Sutton Studio Sportswear, Dresses, Shop for Women and Shop for Petites, a deal that provided total discounts of from 50 percent to 75 percent off. It did so subtly, however. The sign was small, and Bloomingdale's traffic was light on Black Friday afternoon even though the mall remained crowded.

Yet, the soft showing at Bloomingdale's won't worry parent Macy's (M) if its namesake stores were doing anything like the business its Roosevelt Field location managed. Macy's was the thick of things among the traditional department stores operating at Roosevelt Field. The sales floor was almost a Black Friday cliché, with streaming crowds flowing thickly along aisles and sliding up along counters to check out the merchandise. The early Black Friday read on Macy's was good across the chain, with the company's flagship store in New York's Herald Square opening to 5,000 customers lined up outside, the company reported.

Macy's had some particular twists in its merchandising to help lure consumers out of the aisles. The Roosevelt Field store's EDV â€" or everyday value â€" department was drawing customers, for instance. Shoppers also seemed intrigued by the gift bags the retailer stocked in main departments, although more passers buy were looking than purchasing, perhaps making a mental note in case someone on their gift list turned out to be a challenge.

In reports nationwide, the themes for the Black Friday were more people spending less money and folks doing more browsing than shopping, particularly beyond bargains. Given the quiet at Nordstrom and Bloomingdales, and the popularity of EDV at Macy's, it seems as if Roosevelt Field was typical of larger trends.

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