Black Friday Starts Holiday Season with a Bang

The weekend after Thanksgiving is a barometer of overall holiday sales, which account for 25 to 40 percent of a retailer's annual sales. Though the holiday season is far from over, retailers across the country are breathing a collective sigh of relief after shoppers headed to stores and Web sites in droves over the weekend. More than 172 million shoppers visited stores and Web sites over Black Friday weekend, up from 147 million shoppers last year according to the NRF's 2008 Black Friday Weekend survey, conducted by BIGresearch. Shoppers spent an average of $372.57 this weekend, up 7.2 percent over last year's $347.55. Total spending reached an estimated $41.0 billion.

Friday was clearly the busiest day of the weekend with 73.6 million people hitting stores and Web sites for doorbuster sales. Though traffic subsides after Friday, 56.9 million people shopped on Saturday, up from 48.3 million last year, while another 26.2 million people planned to shop on Sunday.

Though retailers in all categories were featuring big bargains, a majority of shoppers visited discount stores for holiday deals. According to the survey, more than half (54.7%) of this weekend's shoppers visited discount stores. Nearly half (43.0%) shopped at a traditional department store, up 11.1 percent from 38.7 percent last year. About one-third of shoppers visited specialty stores like clothing or electronics stores (36.0%) and shopped online (34.0%).

"Pent-up demand on electronics and clothing, plus unparalleled bargains on this season's hottest items helped drive shopping all weekend," says NRF President and CEO Tracy Mullin. "Holiday sales are not expected to continue at this brisk pace, but it is encouraging that Americans seem excited to go shopping again."

As expected, many shoppers (50.9%) purchased clothing and accessories over the weekend while 39.0 percent bought books, DVDs, CDs and video games and 35.9 percent purchased consumer electronics. Toys were also big sellers, as 28.5 percent of shoppers bought a toy. Gift cards were down 10 percent, perhaps due to concerns about retail bankruptcies.

But while spending was up, there were troubling signs in the early numbers. The bargains that drove shoppers to stores were so stunning, analysts said that retailers - already suffering from double-digit sales declines the last two months - would probably see their profits drop even further. Also potentially troubling for retailers is that consumers say they are further along in their holiday shopping - on average, 39.3 percent done versus 36.4 percent a year ago, according to the NRF.

NRF continues to project that holiday sales will rise 2.2 percent this year to $470.4 billion.
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