NEW YORK -- Did stores shoot themselves in the foot?
Target, Macy's and other retailers offered holiday discounts in early November and opened stores on Thanksgiving Day. It was an effort to attract shoppers before Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving that traditionally kicks off the holiday shopping season.
Those tactics drew bigger crowds, but failed to motivate Americans to spend.
A record 141 million people were expected to shop in stores and online over the four-day Thanksgiving weekend that ended Sunday, up from last year's 137 million, according to the results of a survey of nearly 4,500 shoppers conducted for The National Retail Federation.
But total spending was expected to fall for the first time ever since the trade group began tracking it in 2006, according to the survey that was released on Sunday. Over the four days, spending fell an estimated 2.9 percent to $57.4 billion.
Shoppers, on average, were expected to spend $407.02 during the four days, down 3.9 percent from last year. That would be the first decline since the 2009 holiday shopping season when the economy was just coming out of the recession.
The survey underscores the challenges stores have faced since the recession began in late 2007. Retailers had to offer deep discounts to get people to shop during the downturn, but Americans still expect those "70 percent off" signs now during the uneven economic recovery.
Stores may have only exacerbated that expectation this year. By offering bargains earlier in the season, it seems they've created a vicious cycle in which they'll need to constantly offer bigger sales to get people to spend. That's because shoppers who took advantage of "holiday" deals before Thanksgiving may have deal fatigue and are cautious about buying anything else unless it's heavily discounted.
Matthew Shay, president and CEO of The National Retail Federation, said the trade group still expects sales for the combined two months to increase 3.9 percent to $602.1 billion. That's higher than the 3.5 percent pace in the previous year.
But to achieve that growth, retailers will likely have to offer big sales events.