Correction to This Article
This article incorrectly said that an estimated 195 million people visited shopping malls and online retailers from Nov. 26 through Nov. 29. The figure, from the National Retail Federation, is an estimate of the number of shopping trips, not the number of shoppers.

Post-Thanksgiving shopping up, spending down

The post-holiday shopping day known as Black Friday descended on the Washington, D.C., area as a couple thousand lining up outside Best Buy and Target in Columbia Heights, beginning Thursday night. When the doors opened at 5 a.m., shoppers were ready.
By Ylan Q. Mui
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 30, 2009

More people joined in the post-Thanksgiving shopping bonanza this year, but they spent less money and hunted down bargains, according to an industry survey released Sunday.

The National Retail Federation, a trade group, estimated that 195 million people visited shopping malls and online retailers Thursday through Sunday, up from 172 million consumers last year. But the average amount spent per shopper fell nearly 8 percent to $343.31. The estimated overall tally for the four days was $41.2 billion, on par with last year.

NRF spokesman Scott Krugman said retailers' aggressive promotions -- such as $200 laptop computers -- combined with the popularity of relatively cheap items such as toys and home goods helped to push down the average spending per shopper, despite the larger crowds.

"The amount of shopper traffic well surpassed our expectations," Krugman said. "Retailers were really focusing on lower price points in terms of getting consumers into the store."

The day after Thanksgiving -- nicknamed "Black Friday" -- is closely watched for clues about consumers' moods heading into the all-important holiday shopping season, when much of many retailers' profit for the year is made. This year carries particular weight because consumers have been ravaged by the recession and spending has yet to fully recover.

Retail research firm ShopperTrak reported that sales on Friday rose 0.5 percent over last year to reach $10.7 billion, an encouraging sign for the industry. The group said it expected Saturday sales to be strongest in the morning, then peter out through Sunday night.

"Traffic seemed to follow a familiar pattern this year as retailers were blitzed early in the day by smart shoppers capitalizing on discounted merchandise," said Bill Marti, ShopperTrak co-founder.

Retailers began rolling out door-buster discounts early this year, with price cuts on toys starting before Halloween. That helped drive up the percentage of shoppers who bought toys to 32 percent, up 13 percent from last year, according to the NRF. Sporting goods, health and beauty items and gift cards also saw big increases over the weekend. Clothing was the most popular purchase, with about half of consumers reporting to have bought an item.

In a surprise switch, department stores ranked as the top Black Friday shopping destination, with 49 percent of shoppers visiting at least one. Discounters, which have typically claimed the No. 1 spot, fell to second place with 43.2 percent of shoppers, according to the NRF survey.

In addition, the survey showed more people arrived at stores by 5 a.m. this year as shoppers sacrificed sleep to save money.

"People were willing to get out of bed for a good deal when they're trying to stretch their dollar," said Ellen Davis, an NRF spokeswoman.

The shopping blitz is expected to continue as online retailers slash prices for "Cyber Monday," the day that online retailers push big discounts for holiday sales. The NRF expects nearly 100 million people to shop online Monday.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company