||Robust Sales for Holiday Weekend
More Americans went shopping over the Thanksgiving weekend than in recent memory, and online shopping accounted for the highest percentage of the weekend's sales yet.
The average amount spent per person from Thursday to Sunday was about $365, more than a 6 percent increase over last year, according to a survey of about 4,300 Americans by the National Retail Federation, a trade group that reported results on Sunday afternoon.
And an estimated 212 million people shopped, up from 195 million last year. That is the highest number of Thanksgiving weekend shoppers since the first survey in 2004.
Spending on discretionary items rather than bargain-basement discounts seemed to help push the weekend total to a high of $45 billion, up from about $41.2 billion recorded in the last two years.
Spending over the holiday weekend usually accounts for about 8 to 9 percent of the season's sales, but Ellen Davis, a National Retail Federation spokeswoman, cautioned it was not always a predictor of how busy the holiday season would be. In 2008, one of the worst holiday seasons in recent years, survey respondents said they had spent about $373 on average, a record high.
"It's important to keep the economy in mind here. Sometimes Black Friday is not an indicator of the holiday season, because people are so focused on deals that they'll get themselves up early," she said, while in better economic times, they will shop even on days without huge promotions.
A broader picture of early holiday performance will be available on Thursday, when several companies report November sales at stores open at least a year.
Online, results were strong.
Though companies traditionally began their online holiday sales push the Monday after Thanksgiving, this year, they emphasized promotions on Thanksgiving Day and the day after, often called Black Friday, and the efforts seemed to work. About 33.6 percent of weekend shoppers bought online, which, according to the federation's study, is the highest percentage ever.
Other data suggested similar increases in online spending. On Thanksgiving, online sales increased 33 percent over a year earlier, while on Friday, sales increased 15.9 percent, according to Coremetrics, an I.B.M. company, which gathers actual online sales results of more than 500 retailers, including Macy's, Williams-Sonoma and Petco.
MasterCard Worldwide said its Friday transaction data indicated that spending in the category that includes online shopping was accelerated even faster this year than it did the year before.
"People are doing more of their shopping online," said Michael Manchisi, chief technology officer for MasterCard. Growth in that category, which MasterCard calls "consumer not present," so it also could include catalog or telephone sales, also outpaced growth in in-store purchases this year.
ComScore, an online research firm, said online retail spending increased 13 percent, to $11.64 billion, in the first 26 days of November versus the same period a year ago. Online spending on Thursday rose 28 percent, and online spending on Friday rose 9 percent, to $648 million, the biggest sales day yet in 2010.
Cheryl Schiller, a part-time auditor and high school track coach who lives in the Boston suburb of Arlington, is a tiny contributor to the increase in online sales. Though she was browsing at a crowded Best Buy in Boston, she had already bought a third of her holiday gifts from various sites.
"Online is the way to go," she said. "We're getting better at planning the shopping."
The strength in online shopping may explain why another report, issued Saturday, showed slow growth for Friday sales.
In-store sales increased only 0.3 percent on Friday, to $10.69 billion, ShopperTrak said, while traffic increased 2.2 percent.
ShopperTrak uses cameras to observe traffic at malls and retail outlets, then uses known conversion rates -- the percentage of shoppers that actually buy something at a specific store, economic indicators and other factors -- to estimate total sales.
The National Retail Federation said that the difference between its data and ShopperTrak's could be attributed to ShopperTrak's not measuring online sales, to looking only at Friday sales rather than the extended weekend and to measuring largely shopping at big malls, rather than big-box stores or boutiques.
The National Retail Federation data also indicated people were buying for themselves, rather than spending only on gifts, which was echoed by shoppers interviewed on Friday.
There was a shift in spending "away from basics and necessities and more toward discretionary items," Ms. Davis of the federation said. "We certainly saw that this weekend. Some of these items may have been gifts and some may have been self-gifting purchases."
Weekend shoppers who said they bought jewelry, for instance, rose to 14.3 percent this year, from 11.7 percent last year.
I.B.M. data showed an increase in jewelry spending as well, with online jewelry retailers reporting a 17.6 percent increase in sales compared with the Friday a year ago.
A higher percentage of men than women said they were buying consumer electronics, according to the federation's survey, and a higher percentage of women said they were buying items like jewelry, home furnishings and beauty items.
That suggested people were snapping up items for their own use, Ms. Davis said.
"It certainly implies that some of these items were self-gift purchases," she said. While a man could be buying his wife a Blu-ray DVD player and a woman could be buying her boyfriend a watch, the overall impression, Ms. Davis said, was that "people were out buying for themselves."
That was the case in Santa Monica Place, an upscale Los Angeles area mall, on Friday. Rachel Farzam, 25, was shopping with her mother and her sister. Ms. Farzam's mother had already bought a handbag and a gold bracelet from Nordstrom. The women had also bought laptops, a GPS unit and a hard drive at Staples. By late morning, they were surveying jewelry at Tiffany.
"We're out looking for deals, but if we see something nice, we'll still get it," Ms. Farzam said. "It's just fun."
And in Atlanta, before the Apple Store opened on Friday morning, the first people in line were Jose Aguiar, 50; his son Tiago, 20; and two of Tiago's friends. They had driven 45 minutes from Kennesaw and were in line at 2 a.m.
The store opened at 5 a.m., and by 5:05, the group had bought their items -- an iPad and four iPods -- and were ready to leave. There were no special prices that day, which disappointed Jose Aguiar.
"I thought it would be much cheaper," he said, but it didn't stop him from buying.
Despite all the industry frenzy around the day, Laura Gurski, a partner and global head of the retail practice at the consulting firm A. T. Kearney, said she thought it was becoming less important over all.
"The earlier retail promotions begin to diminish the importance of Black Friday in terms of a year over year comparison of the specific day," she said in an e-mail. "As the retailer's strategy has changed, so has the consumer's behavior, right along with it."
(Source: The New York Times 11/29/10)
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