On Black Friday, Fewer People, More Spent

From left, Steven Ly, Andy Ho and Danny Chieng had their carts loaded up Friday at the Best Buy in Vienna. Shoppers spent an average of about $360.
From left, Steven Ly, Andy Ho and Danny Chieng had their carts loaded up Friday at the Best Buy in Vienna. Shoppers spent an average of about $360. (By Chris Greenberg -- Bloomberg News)
By Ylan Q. Mui
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 27, 2006

Fewer consumers turned out for the post-Thanksgiving shopping bonanza this year, but they spent more than last year as they stocked their carts with expensive electronics, according to a retail trade group.

The National Retail Federation estimated that 140 million people hit the stores and shopped online over the past four days, down about 5 million from last year. Black Friday, the symbolic kickoff of the holiday season for retailers, drew about 58.9 million people, down more than 1 million.

Thanksgiving weekend has become an important marker for retailers, as they battle to offer the biggest discounts to shoppers and, in the process, generate the most buzz. This year, many stores opened at midnight on Thursday. CompUSA beat that, opening for three hours Thanksgiving night.

Shoppers responded by pulling out their wallets. People spent an average of $360.15 this year, up 18.9 percent from last year, according to a survey conducted by BIGresearch. Scott Krugman, a spokesman for the National Retail Federation, said spending was driven by high-priced technology items such as flat screen TVs.

"This year, stores did not disappoint, as deals on high definition televisions and apparel were just too good to pass up, bringing millions of people out of their Thanksgiving cocoons," said the retail federation president, Tracy Mullin.

The credit card company Visa USA also reported strong sales in electronics on Friday, along with furniture and home furnishings. Average spending, including gasoline and restaurant purchases, was up 8.7 percent, the company said.

The retail research firm ShopperTrak estimated total spending on Friday reached $8.96 billion, up 6 percent from last year. It attributed the boost in part to declining energy costs and extended discounts that day.

"Retailers need to remain cautious," said Bill Martin, co-founder of ShopperTrak. "But undoubtedly this type of a season opening is a nice shot in the arm for the industry."

The National Retail Federation predicts retail sales during November and December to grow at a modest 5 percent compared to last year, reaching $457.4 billion. As of Sunday, consumers reported having completed about 35 percent of their holiday shopping, according to the BIGresearch survey. Just less than 9 percent said they were finished.


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