The world shops America
Tourists flock to Manhattan on Black Friday to take advantage of the weak dollar as well as holiday sales.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Happy Vendredi Noir! Or Schwarzer Freitag! Or Viernes Negro!
Walking around midtown Manhattan on Black Friday, you heard shoppers speaking in a smorgasbord of languages.
With the U.S. dollar as weak as it is - the greenback hit a new low against the euro on Friday - it appears that many Europeans flocked to the Big Apple to go bargain hunting, to the delight of retailers.
Sarah T., who works at the information booth in the Manhattan Mall, which includes stores such as Aeropostale (Charts), Radio Shack (Charts, Fortune 500) and Charlotte Russe (Charts), said that overall traffic during the morning of Black Friday was about the same as last year but that there were far more many tourists at the mall than a year ago. And she said many of them were leaving with armfuls of bags.
At the Victoria's Secret in Herald Square, a greeter standing at the front door wore a Santa hat...and a button that said "Hablo Espanol." A spokeswoman for Victoria's Secret parent company Limited Brands (Charts, Fortune 500) in Columbus, Ohio, said it was good news to hear that the company's stores were popular with tourists.
And the line for the visitors' center at the Macy's iconic store in Herald Square was longer than the lines at many cash registers.
"We are definitely seeing an influx of European, Canadian and South American consumers," said Terry Lundgren, the chairman and CEO of Macy's Inc (Charts, Fortune 500). "These economies view the dollar as being on sale."
Lundgren said that, in addition to the company's flagship Macy's, the Bloomingdale's stores on 59th Street and in SoHo in Manhattan were both experiencing a boost from tourists, as were Macy's locations in Chicago and San Francisco.
The fact that the dollar has plunged to such low levels could help retailers if the American consumer pulls back this holiday shopping season. Economists are worried that the subprime mortgage crisis could cause people to think twice about spending as much on gifts as they have in years past.
But for those who are enjoying the strength of the euro, pound, yen and other currencies against the moribund dollar, Black Friday provides an added reason to go on a shopping binge. Tourists not only get more bang for their buck, so to speak, but also get to buy things at the steep discounts for which Black Friday is known.
"Of course I'm looking to take advantage of the weak dollar. And it's a bonus that you have the Black Friday sales as well," said Catherine Chapman, who was visiting the U.S. from Scotland.
She said she was looking to spend a decent amount at Macy's and in other stores in New York and said that it was worth flying across the pond to get some deals. It helps, she said, that her friend works for Virgin Atlantic. So she was able to get a cheap flight.
But some shoppers looking to cash in on the weak dollar didn't have to fly to New York. They could just drive over the border.
Howard Schacter, the chief partnership officer for Steve & Barry's, an apparel retailer that has a store in the Manhattan Mall, said that the strength in the Canadian dollar, often referred to as the loonie, has helped the company's sales recently.
"For us, the big boost we're seeing is that a higher number of people from north of the border are coming to our stores in the U.S.," Schacter said. Steve & Barry's has 240 stores in the U.S. and several of them are located in Michigan near the border with the Canadian province of Ontario.
He added, though, that Steve & Barry's stores have been seeing a higher number of international shoppers overall, not just from Canada, in the past few months and that the number has been steadily increasing.
And with the dollar showing no signs of rallying significantly anytime soon, retailers may enjoy a steady stream of customers from outside the U.S. for the foreseeable future.
"International consumers have been making a regular point to visit New York and the U.S. to shop during the past few months and that should continue in 2008," Lundgren said.
Whether or not increased sales to shoppers from outside the U.S. will be enough to make Black Friday and the rest of the holiday shopping season a success, in light of all the concerns about the health of the U.S. consumer, remains to be seen.
But retailers certainly should be prepared to say "gracias," "danke," "arigato" and thanks in many other languages if fourth quarter sales turn out to be better than expected.