Black Friday sales plummeted this year, leaving retailers completely stumped.
After weeks of declining gas prices, many analysts predicted the biggest holiday season ever. Industry groups like the National Retail Federation reasoned that Americans would use their fuel savings on gifts.
Despite encouraging forecasts, Black Friday weekend sales were down 11%. Cyber Monday sales rose 8%, falling short of many predictions.
So where are the customers?
They're probably broke, according to some analysts and executives.
Brad Anderson, former CEO of Best Buy, told CNBC that customers were "still feeling constrained," which could lead to a lackluster holiday season.
Macy's CFO Karen Hoguet told analysts that consumers had priorities other than clothing and housewares.
"Shoppers are spending more of their disposable dollars on categories we donít sell, like cars, healthcare, electronics, and home improvement," Hoguet said in a call with investors.
The stores that did remarkably well on Black Friday, like Family Dollar and Kohl's, are all deep discounters, according to a recent Deutsche Bank report.
The success of discount retailers shows that Americans are more concerned about spending money than ever.
Wal-Mart, however, provided few details about results from the weekend, a possible sign of bad news, the Deutsche Bank analysts wrote.
Many Americans are watching their spending despite lower gas prices, writes Lindsey Piegza, chief economist at Sterne Agee.
"Consumers are increasingly familiar with energy price reprieve from summer gas prices and no longer adjust their long-term spending habits as much, or at all, based on short-term price fluctuations," Piegza writes.
And while gas prices are lower, the benefit is offset by higher housing and utility costs, according to Piegza.
Health insurance premiums have increased between 39% and 56% since early 2013, meaning additional costs of $230 per month for the average family.
The lackluster job market is also contributing to poor holiday sales, Piegza writes.
"With uncertainty lingering and patience wearing thin after five-plus years of still lackluster wage growth, consumers are increasing saving for the future, hedging against a continuation of 'more of the same,'"Piegza said. "Thus, for many, extra savings at the pump as a result of lower gas prices are simply being stored away to help supplement spending needs in the future, ramping up savings, not spending."
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