Shoppers Ring Up Busy Start for the Holidays

Shoppers were out in full force over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, with ShopperTrak reporting that retail stores took in $7.2 billion in sales on Black Friday, up 4.8 percent from last year.

Wal-Mart set a record $1.52 billion in U.S. sales for the day, up 6.3 percent, from last year. Top selling categories were home electronics, small appliances and toys, the company said.

“Given the difficult comparison with a strong start to the holiday season last year, the Black Friday performance this year was a very good start to the season,” Michael Niemira, lead consultant at ShopperTrak, said in a statement. “Not only are the incentives and discounts bringing people into the stores to shop and buy, retailers also report that full-priced merchandise did well.”

Visa USA said total U.S. spending on Visa credit and debit cards for Friday and Saturday increased 12 percent over the same two-day period last year. During the first two official holiday shopping days, spending on Visa topped $6.5 billion.

The National Retail Federation expects industry sales for the November-December shopping season to increase 5.7 percent, to $217.4 billion. This would be the largest increase since 1999. Last year, sales grew just 2.2. percent. Other analysts are predicting that holiday spending will be solid this year, averaging 4 percent growth.

“Sales and traffic on Friday are better than last year, and that's encouraging,” Walter Loeb, an analyst with Loeb Associates, New York, told Reuters. “There will be a slight slowdown, but in general I think the momentum will be better than a year ago.”

This year, stores are aiming to avoid getting socked with piles of holiday leftovers by keeping inventories that average 7 percent below last year.

Online holiday sales also are expected to remain a bright spot. Forrester Research estimated that online sales from Thanksgiving weekend to Christmas will increase 42 percent over a year ago, to $12.2 billion, which includes travel and auction sites.

MSN Shopping announced today that it saw a 20 percent increase in consumer spending and site traffic compared with the same period last year.

Over the past decade, discount chains have been ringing up a bigger share of the holiday season’s dollars, taking sales from specialty stores and traditional department stores. The holiday shopping season brings in as much as 40 percent of annual revenues and nearly all the year’s profits for apparel stores, toy stores and other specialty categories.

While Black Friday once was the biggest shopping day of the year, it has lost that title to the Saturday before Christmas. The day got its name because it once marked the day when retailers got out of the red.

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