Thanksgiving weekend shopping rises to $45 billion, exceeding expectations

Many Tysons Corners shops opened their doors at midnight on Thanksgiving, to allow those shoppers hunting for Black Friday deals an extra five hours of savings. Shoppers and store managers talk about the rush, their shopping lists, and the economy.
By Danielle Douglas
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 29, 2010; 12:26 PM

Consumers were out in force and in the mood to spend over the Thanksgiving weekend, exceeding industry expectations and giving retailers a promising start to the all-important holiday shopping season.

An estimated 212.5 million consumers visited shopping malls and online retailers Thursday through Sunday, up from 195.4 million last year, according to a survey released Sunday by the National Retail Federation. The amount spent by the average shopper increased 6 percent to $365.34. Total spending over the course of the long weekend topped $45 billion, up from $41.2 billion last year.

"Spending power is there, confidence is not. And I think retailers are tapping that spending power with pretty clever promotions," said federation spokesman Scott Krugman.

Retailers pin a lot of hope on Black Friday; the post-Thanksgiving shopping day traditionally accounts for a hefty portion of their profits for the year. Many shoppers got an early jump on deals this year, with in-store and online promotions in advance of the day. Some experts expected the advance deals to undercut the weekend's sales, but early estimates seemed to prove them wrong.

Leading up to Black Friday, analysts generally offered tepid forecasts of improved consumer spending this year, under the assumption that the weak job market and consumer debt would restrain spending.

Activity Friday indeed remained rather flat, with retail research firm ShopperTrak reporting a nominal year-over-year increase of 0.3 percent to $10.69 billion in sales. NFR pointed out, however, that the strong flow of foot traffic and sales on Thursday and Saturday gave a boost to total weekend numbers.

The number of people who shopped on Thanksgiving, both in-store and online, has doubled in the past five years, from 10.3 million in 2005 to 22.3 million this year. Some 19.8 percent of men copped to shopping excursions on turkey day.

Overall, men were quick to pull out their wallets this holiday weekend, outspending women by about $100, with an average tally of $417.05.

"Men don't like to comparison shop or bargain hunt as much [as women]," said Ellen Davis, a federation spokeswoman. "They might be more inclined to shop at a store because of convenience or service and as a result may wind up spending more."

Among men, much of their dollars went to consumer electronics and clothing.

Gift cards, toys and books also were high on the list of buys this year. Jewelry made a comeback this year, as 14.3 percent of people purchased rings, earrings and the like, up from 11. 7 percent last year. The NRF was especially encouraged by the increase in spending on discretionary items, such as jewelry, which the organization reads as a sign of consumer confidence in the economy.

Although bargains remained paramount, value seemed to beat out the steepest deals. Department stores and apparel retailers witnessed an uptick in foot traffic, while discounters saw 7.2 percent fewer consumers than the previous year. "People are looking at quality, convenience, service and selection. And a lot of that translates into where people shopped over Black Friday weekend," Davis said.

Davis noted that online shopping continued to play a significant role for retailers over the holiday weekend. About 33.6 percent of consumers shopped online this year, a 15 percent increase over last year. A third of the total shopping during the long weekend happened online, the highest recorded amount since NRF began its survey in 2005.

Shoppers who preferred to stay in their pajamas could pick up many of the same in-store Black Friday deals online at midnight, while a wealth of countdown sales leading up to the day were exclusive to the Web.

Retailers are expected to further ramp up deals for Cyber Monday, which many analysts believe will be the busiest online shopping day of the year. According a recent survey from, an arm of NRF, nearly 107 million people are expected to shop Monday, with younger shoppers leading the charge.

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