Walmart claims ‘best ever Black Friday events,’ downplays strikes

Protesters demonstrate outside a Walmart store in Chicago November 23, 2012.
Protesters demonstrate outside a Walmart store in Chicago November 23, 2012.
REUTERS/John Gress

Walmart claimed to have held its “Best ever Black Friday events” this year, despite pressure from a wave of nationwide labor actions against the company. However, “best ever” does not correspond to hard sales numbers, and includes events that began on Thanksgiving evening.

Walmart issued the statement Friday morning describing its “best ever” Black Friday.

“When we talk about best Black Friday events ever, we’re talking about the ones on Thursday Night we had, and Friday morning as well,” Walmart spokesperson Kory Lundberg told msnbc Monday. Lundberg said that the statement labeled those events to be the best in Walmart’s history on the basis of a “combination of different things,” including attendance and customer enthusiasm.

Walmart’s sales occurred in the face of protests and strikes among its workers and sympathetic activists, who said the company offers poverty-level wages and poor working conditions. Walmart, which has long argued that the protests are a “publicity stunt” ginned up by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, claimed on Friday that fewer than 50 of its employees were actually involved in the protests.

Actual sales numbers will be released in Walmart’s quarterly sales report, but the retail giant reported “nearly 10 million register transactions” between 8 p.m. and midnight on Thanksgiving. “The work of our associates is even more impressive when you consider they served approximately 22 million customers on Thursday,” said president and CEO Bill Simon.

In a follow-up statement released that afternoon, the company claimed, the number of employees who did not show up to work for a scheduled shift had declined by over 60% compared to last year’s Black Friday. When asked to provide the number of employees who missed their scheduled shifts, the company declined.

According to strike organizers, Black Friday protests occurred in 100 cities nationwide, and hundreds of employees were involved.  As noted by The Nation’s Josh Eidelson, “last month’s strikes drew 160.”

Daily Kos’ Laura Clawson accused the company of a “serious understatement,” writing: ”A protest in Dallas reportedly involved 40 workers; one in Miami involved 70 workers.”

“We are aware of a few dozen protests,” said Lundberg. “But [there are] less than 50 [employees] we’re aware of participating.”

According to the industry analysts at ShopperTrak, foot traffic for the retail industry as a whole went up 3.5% compared to last year, but sales fell 1.8%. ShopperTrak founder Bill Martin partially attributed the drop to the Thursday bargains offered by Walmart and other stores. “[W]hile foot traffic did increase on Friday, those Thursday deals attracted some of the spending that’s usually meant for Friday,” he said.