Holiday Weekend Shopping Grew Despite Weak Economy, Reports Show

By Ylan Q. Mui
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 1, 2008

Consumers swarmed the nation's stores over the weekend in search of deeply discounted electronics and apparel, sending sales rising and giving retailers a little Christmas cheer, according to early reports released yesterday.

Market research firm ShopperTrak reported that sales on Black Friday grew 3 percent to about $10.6 billion. Last year, sales on that day grew 8.3 percent.

"Under these circumstances, to start off the season in this fashion is truly amazing and is a testament to the resiliency of the American consumer, and undeniably proves a willingness to spend," said Bill Martin, ShopperTrak co-founder.

A more comprehensive picture is expected on Thursday, when national chain stores are scheduled to report November sales, which should offer more insight into how the holiday season is going.

The weekend after Thanksgiving is the traditional start of the holiday shopping season and a crucial barometer of consumers' mindset. Retailers have been struggling to entice shoppers into their stores in recent months as the economic crisis has intensified and were counting on a solid showing this weekend to build momentum for Christmas. ShopperTrak has predicted a 10 percent decline in mall traffic this holiday season and a meager 0.1 percent increase in overall sales, both record lows.

Meanwhile, the National Retail Federation, a trade group, said yesterday that about 172 million people have shopped in stores or online since Thursday, spending an average of $372.57 per person for a total of roughly $41 billion. That's a 7.2 percent increase over the same weekend last year, when about 147 million shoppers spent $347.55 per person.

"I would say people were putting off a lot of purchases, waiting for the best deals, knowing that retailers would obviously reward them," said Scott Krugman, NRF spokesman.

The group estimated about 73.6 million people hit stores and websites on so-called Black Friday, the busiest day of the long weekend. According to its survey conducted by BigResearch, about 23 percent were at the stores by 5 a.m. and nearly 58 percent arrived by 9 a.m.

Saturday drew about 56.9 million people, while another 26.2 million planned to shop yesterday. The number of people who shopped on Thanksgiving Day grew 48 percent to 16.2 million.

Retailers kept largely mum on details of their performance over the weekend. In a statement, JCPenney acknowledged the difficult economic environment for its customers and the intense competition but said it was well-positioned.

"We don't believe that reporting sales data for any one day (or weekend), including Black Friday, would provide a meaningful barometer of our business," JCPenney said.

The shopping marathon is expected to continue today -- dubbed Cyber Monday -- as consumers return to work and make online purchases at their desks. Research firm ComScore reported online sales on Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday grew 2 percent from last year to $822 million. However, sales this holiday season are down 4 percent from last year, the group said.

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