If you take the early numbers from this weekend at face value, the makings for decent holiday shopping season for retail exchange traded funds (ETFs) are in the works. But should investors really buy into the idea that all is suddenly well in the world of retail?

Probably not. While Black Friday sales were up 3% from last year, retailers may not necessarily be raking in profits. After all, it’s taking some serious discounts to lure shoppers out of their hidey-holes, leading to some strong sales figures that are likely misleading. Retailers are having to offer such strong discounts that their profits are likely to erode even further, reports Stephanie Rosenbloom for the New York Times.

Shoppers flooded the stores on Friday, but foot traffic tapered off both Saturday and Sunday. Today is Cyber Monday, and the early numbers aren’t looking so good. Amazon (AMZN) and eBay (EBAY) are down this morning, with analysts concerned that deep discounts have stolen their thunder.

I went on an unexpected shopping spree last night after seeing that one of my favorite clothing retailers was not only offering 20% off an entire order, but free shipping to boot. I’m probably like many other shoppers these days: if there’s no big discount in it for me, forget it. I’ve gotten so spoiled by discounts and incentives that I won’t buy anything before hunting around for some kind of coupon first.

In a recent ComScore survey, 47% of consumers said they were going to buy fewer gifts this year; 46% would buy less expensive gifts; 37% would be using coupons and 32% would spend more time looking for deals in the stores.

This is why we probably shouldn’t put too much stock in those Black Friday numbers. Shoppers might be out in force, but they’re doing some serious comparison shopping and bargain hunting. It’s good news if you need a new wardrobe, but bad news if you’re the retailer.

  • SPDR S&P Retail (XRT), down 44.6% year-to-date

Retail ETF

The opinions and forecasts expressed herein are solely those of Tom Lydon, and may not actually come to pass. Information on this site should not be used or construed as an offer to sell, a solicitation of an offer to buy, or a recommendation for any product.