Black Friday sees plenty of shoppers; spending up only slightly

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Despite a struggling economy, 195 million shoppers visited stores and e-commerce Web sites during the weekend after Thanksgiving, up from 172 million last year, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF). Total retail spending for “Black Friday weekend” hit $41.2 billion - up only slightly from $41 billion spent last year. However, November 27 was the second-busiest online shopping day of 2009.

While the holiday weekend saw an exceptional amount of in-store traffic, in-person spending was down. According to the NRF's Black Friday shopping survey, conducted by BIGresearch, the average per-person spending over the weekend dropped to $343.31 per person from $372.57 a year ago.

“It is not surprising that people held back on their spending this weekend. We knew going into the holiday season that retailers were going to have to really pull out all the stops during the holiday season when it came to promotions,” said Kathy Grannis, manager, media relations at the NRF. “The bottom line is that more people shopped, but just spent less. The deals were eye-opening and exciting but some people held onto their gift-giving budgets a little bit tighter instead of blowing it all on Black Friday weekend.”

While spending has dropped in stores over the Thanksgiving holiday, November 27 saw $595 million in online sales, making it the second-busiest online shopping day of this year and representing an 11% increase from Black Friday 2008, which saw only $534 million in online sales, according to comScore.

“Any time you see a double-digit growth rate in the context of this economy, it's a good sign,” said Andrew Lipsman, director of marketing communications at comScore. “But one of the things we'll be looking at closely is how much this growth rate has been affected by discounting, and if heavy discounts are the reason, if these strong growth rates can be sustained.” 

According to comScore, during the first 27 days of November, e-commerce sales were up 3% over last year. During that time, e-commerce sales reached $10.57 billion. In addition, according to the NRF, 28.5% of Americans shopped online this past weekend.

The sites of Amazon, Wal-Mart, Apple, Target and Best Buy were the most popular e-commerce portals visited on Black Friday. Each had more than 4 million US unique visitors on November 27. In addition, these properties all experienced traffic gains from last year, according to comScore.

Amazon was the most visited retail property on Black Friday, growing 28% over last year. Amazon was followed closely by Wal-Mart, which grew 22% over last year. Apple.com Worldwide Sites were the third-most visited, up 39% from last year. Target and Best Buy rounded out the top five, with Target showing only a 2% growth over 2008, while Best Buy was up 25%.

Offline, the NRF reported that shoppers' destinations of choice were department stores, with 49.4% of holiday shoppers visiting at least one this past weekend, a 12.9% increase from last year.

Interestingly, shoppers got up earlier this year than last year. In response to special in-store offers on Black Friday, 31.2% of shoppers got to stores by 5 am, compared with 23.3% who were at stores by that time last year.

“During a more robust economy, people may be inclined to hit the snooze button on Black Friday, but high unemployment and a focus on price caused shoppers to visit stores early in anticipation of the best deals,” said Phil Rist, EVP of strategic initiatives, at BIGresearch, in a statement.

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