Nevertheless, the survey seemed to suggest an extension of a pattern we’ve seen for several years now: As retailer’s deals have spread out over many days — or even weeks — shoppers are staggering their visits to the mall and are turning to their favorite e-commerce sites for discounts long before the Nov. 30 Cyber Monday.
Of those who shopped in a store over the long weekend, 73 percent said they went on Black Friday. But 34 percent said they shopped on Thanksgiving Day and 46 percent said they shopped on Saturday. And based on previous surveys they conducted this fall, NRF believes many people had begun their holiday shopping long before Thanksgiving Day.
Matthew Shay, chief executive of the NRF, used a football analogy to describe how much the rhythm of the shopping season has changed in recent years.
“It’s almost the second quarter going on halftime, whereas once upon a time, this was really where the game started,” Shay said on a Sunday conference call with reporters.
Other data from this weekend suggest that shoppers are increasingly looking online to score deals. RetailNext, a company that provides in-store analytics software to retailers, said in-store traffic was flat over the weekend and that sales were down 1.5 percent at brick-and-mortar outposts. Meanwhile, Thanksgiving Day online sales were a record $1.73 billion, according to Adobe, whose software is used by many large e-commerce sites. Black Friday sales were $2.74 billion, some 14 percent greater than last year.
Consumer confidence was improving coming into the holiday season, and yet major chains such as Macy’s Nordstrom, Urban Outfitters and Dillard’s reported poor earnings results in mid-November, suggesting that retailers were still having some trouble persuading shoppers to make purchases.
“We know that they still have a savings account that’s greater than last year, so if they choose to spend, they can,” said Terry Lundgren, the chief executive of Macy’s, in an interview Friday.
Lundgren said the roughly 15,000 shoppers who visited his Herald Square flagship gave him confidence about how the rest of the holiday season would shape up for the department store. He said they saw particularly strong sales in items such as active apparel, women’s dresses, handbags and cosmetics gift sets.
One data point from the NRF survey that might be a reason for optimism in the retail industry: The 151 million people who reported shopping this weekend was a significantly greater number than the 136 million who said just weeks ago that they planned to shop during this time period. The trade group said this was perhaps a sign that it’s getting easier to browse the deals online and to transact on a mobile device — a process which was rather clunky on most e-commerce sites only a few years ago.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the percentage of consumers that shopped over Black Friday weekend. This version has been corrected.